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AVON PARK, Fla. – May 12, 2023 – Every child has a dream of their job in adulthood. At age 10, Emily Dressel decided that she wanted to move to Los Angeles, Calif. and become a YouTuber when she grew up. On Tuesday, May 9, she was the student speaker during South Florida State College’s (SFSC) 7:15 p.m. spring Commencement ceremony at the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on the Highlands Campus in Avon Park. Although her dream has changed, Dressel overcame challenges in life, completed an associate degree, and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication.
A resident of Avon Park, Dressel graduated from the Florida Virtual School in December 2019 and earned her Associate in Arts from SFSC on May 9.
Dressel attended Avon Park High School her freshman year but didn’t feel academically challenged. “For the first time, I was struggling,” she said. “My grades were dropping. I went from being a student who made A’s my whole life to almost failing my freshman year in high school.”
Then Dressel discovered Florida Virtual School. “It was the first time that I was able to write and debate and be told that it’s OK to disagree,” she said. “For instance, we were studying the Vietnam War. It was the first time I was able to voice my opinion on a heated political topic. The teachers explained that there is no right or wrong answer. They just wanted students to back up and argue their point of view. That kind of environment excites me to learn.”
Through Florida Virtual School, Dressel discovered her love of communications. “I worked on the student newspaper, News in a Click, for three years,” she said. “The first year, I was a staff writer. The second year, I became the editor of the Arts and Entertainment section. The third year, I was named editor-in-chief. Florida Virtual School opened my eyes to communications. There’s social media, writing, public speaking, so many avenues to this. That’s where it all started for me.”
Dressel had always wanted to attend college, but didn’t think she could afford to attend. So, she started looking into joining the military. “I was getting ads and hearing about how the military would pay for all your schooling,” she said. “Of course, I’d matured a bit and decided that communication was a bit more up my alley than being a YouTuber in L.A. And most branches of the military offer Mass Communication as a job. I thought that it would offer me a secure job and a free education.”
She enlisted with the Marine Corps and was in the delayed entry program. “I was almost ready to ship out, when I had a hip injury. The hip pain was sending up red flags for my recruiters, so they kept pushing my ship date back.”
During that time, Dressel went to a local gym and met Andy Polk, SFSC student activities coordinator. “He said that he could rehabilitate my hip and give me some training,” she said. “During our conversations, he suggested that I stay mentally active and take college classes.”
When Dressel expressed that she didn’t have the money to attend college, Polk sent her to speak with Rob Hampton, director of the SFSC Career Development Center, and Erin Warner, financial aid advisor.
Hampton, a Marine Corps veteran, suggested Dressel start off small with two or three classes. “Rob told me not to join the military for the sake of getting my education paid for,” Dressel said. “He said to join because of a willingness to serve or for the love of country. Not that I don’t feel those things, but I truly wanted to go to college first and foremost.”
Dressel then met with Warner to discuss financial aid. Although Dressel would be ineligible for a scholarship in her first term, she had to take out a student loan. Beginning with her second term at SFSC, she qualified for scholarships through the SFSC Foundation.
Now that she’s graduated from SFSC, Dressel will head to Florida Southern College in Lakeland on a full scholarship. She plans to work toward a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. “I’d like to pair it with a minor that’s going to help me in the long term, whether it’s in Leadership or Education,” she said. “Higher education is the long-term goal.”
Dressel has indicated that her aspirations for the future are to assist businesses with social media marketing and management, teach at the post-secondary level, and become an administrator for an educational institution.
“There was a time when I didn’t think that I could become what I wanted to because of money,” Dressel said. “I think people fall into that trap. Coming to SFSC opened my eyes. There will be stressors along the way, but you can follow and achieve your dream. It’s liberating when you come to know that.”
“If I could ever make a video or have a donor read my story, I would want them to know just how impactful the SFSC Foundation scholarships are to students like myself,” she said. “They are life-changing. Without the scholarships and without my time at SFSC, I would not be headed to Florida Southern College. I would not be advancing my education. I get really emotional when I think about it.”