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For many Florida students, the opportunity to attend college provides a chance at a better life for them and their families. For some students, like Markemia Peterson, it was a chance at a better life and a way to help her community grow.

Markemia Peterson grew up in the rural area near Tallahassee, as a part of a family that struggled to make ends meet. She was raised by a single mother of three who always made sure they had everything they needed.

"I grew up in the country, behind the airport of Tallahassee in the backwoods, so I'm really a country girl. You know, dirt bikes, fishing, anything like that," says Markemia. "Growing up, I didn't have a lot, but my mom was always making sure that even though we didn't have much, we couldn't tell."

Markemia dreamt of going to college ever since she was little but knew it would not be easy.

"I've pretty much been thinking about college since I've been in elementary school, and I already knew ahead of time that I would have to have a scholarship to go to college. When people say 'put away money to invest in your child's future,' a lot of them don't understand that if you have to use the money that you're making every two weeks to pay your bills, your rent and your insurance, you don't have any money left to put away in a bank account for a rainy day. So, I always knew from a very, very young age that I was going to have to get a scholarship."

At first, like any teenager would, Markemia struggled to focus during high school and dropped out of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program that would have helped ensure a scholarship. But, she figured out quickly that she needed to challenge herself if she really wanted to go to college.

"I was making straight A's in regular classes, and I wasn't really challenging myself. A teacher of mine, her name is Ms. Young, I will not forget her, she sat down and talked to me, Black woman to Black woman, made me understand that I'm not challenging myself enough, and if I kept on the same path, then I wasn't going to go anywhere spectacular or be anything spectacular. That's when it really kind of hit me." Markemia reapplied for the IB program and was able to obtain a Bright Futures Scholarship that would help her go to college.

Each year, thousands of students see their hard work rewarded with a Bright Futures Scholarship, part of the efforts made by the Florida Lottery to ensure a better tomorrow for students from all over the state. When Lottery players purchase tickets, they help fund these scholarships, so young people can achieve their dreams of a higher education.

"Without the Bright Futures Scholarship, it would have been horrible, it would have been so bad. It just made life so much easier for me because I had to pay my own bills growing up. A lot of kids could call their parents and say 'Hey, can you send me money for groceries or pay my rent this month?  I didn't have that luxury because my mom and my grandma had their own bills to pay."

The scholarship gave Markemia the assurance that she could go to school and pay to go to these classes.

"Not only that, but I didn't have to work all the time. I had a job in college but it didn't take up all of my time, so I did have the opportunity to be in these clubs, programs and organizations that put me in the position that I am today."

The future is looking good for Markemia. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in marketing and an entrepreneurship and immediately started carving her path in the business world.

"As I said, I was a country girl, but I always wanted to be a city business-type person. So, I think that never being able to experience that, made me want it more."

Aside from her 9-to-5 job in tech, working with clients and helping them strategize what the best tech strategy is, Markemia also runs an entertainment company that organizes festivals and concerts, while managing two artists as well. She does all of these activities with very specific goals in mind. She wants to help her community grow, just as her community helped her to grow.

"I think there's a really big chance for growth, because something I've been noticing is that people from my community, they don't have people to reach out to. They don't have business partners or people who have been to college or who know how to successfully run a business or be an entrepreneur or anything of that nature. So, a lot of things that I'm doing on the side, I'm doing pro-bono. I'm not really making a lot of money off of it, and the money I'm making I'm putting it back in the community."

Markemia volunteers her time to activities such as food drives, community barbecues and free haircuts for kids on a regular basis. She is also using the connections she made in the music industry to not only help the local artists she manages, but also provide for herself and the people around her.

"Making those connections and bringing them back to the bands and the artists that I manage has been really good because everything that I'm doing, I can bring back to the community. Not only that, but I'm actually making money now. So, I can provide scholarships, provide things to other people. Everything I'm doing is making an impact, and I can use what I have to help others get where they need to be as well."

That is a very long journey for a country girl, but one that she knows anyone can make.

"Don't ever doubt yourself. Don't ever think that you have to be in a box and you have to be a doctor or a lawyer. Try to take as many experiences as you can, take every chance, every opportunity that you can. Especially for my underrepresented minorities who may not have that much money, make sure that you're taking advantage of those free mentorship programs, those free opportunities, those free career advancement programs, because those are probably the biggest things that helped me once I actually got to college to be where I am today. There is a job for literally everything, so try everything and figure out what you like. It's ok if you don't have it all figured out right now, I promise that you're going to figure it out at the end."

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 The Florida Lottery is responsible for contributing more than $39 billion to education and sending more than 880,000 students to college through the Bright Futures Scholarship Program. The Florida Lottery reinvests 99 percent of its revenue back into Florida's economy through prize payouts, commissions to more than 13,000 Lottery retailers, and transfers to education. Since 1988, Florida Lottery games have paid more than $72.5 billion in prizes and made nearly 3,000 people millionaires. 

Above content provided by the Florida Lottery.

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