Juanita Artis said she wasn’t on track to be accepted to the University of Maryland, College Park. After losing her father, uncle and grandmother over the course of her sophomore year at New Hope International High School in Landover Hills, she struggled in school and ultimately graduated in 2008 with a 1.2 GPA.
Now Artis, 22, will graduate from Prince George’s Community College in Largo with a 3.48 GPA. A committee of faculty and administrators selected her to deliver the student address at PGCC’s 54th commencement on May 23 to share her story of overcoming tragedy and taking advantage of a second chance.
Artis will receive an associate of applied science degree in criminal justice and associate of arts degree in psychology and will study criminology at UM in the fall.
“It was comforting,” Artis, who lives in Landover, said of receiving her acceptance letter to the University of Maryland. “It just took me a little long to get there, but I got there nonetheless.”
Artis has cared for her mother, Deanna Artis, who has suffered from breast and intestinal cancer for 10 years, which she said contributed to her state of depression in high school and frequent absences.
“It definitely left me in a state of confusion,” Artis said. “I kind of lost any sense of self during that time. I really did not do too much of anything ... Overall, it was very disheartening and very hard to try to make sense of what I wanted to do or what I needed to do anymore.”
When she started attending classes at Prince George’s Community College in spring 2009, she said, she was encouraged by professors at the school who were accommodating of her situation with her mother.
Dawn Lewis, a psychology professor who taught Artis in three classes, said Artis sometimes told her she would need to miss class due to “personal matters,” but was never late on assignments and was always professional.
“I think we are going to see really big things from Juanita,” Lewis said, noting that Artis received an A in all three courses. “I think we are going to see a leader in Prince George’s County or, if not a leader in Prince George’s County, a leader in Maryland.”
Artis joined two prestigious honor societies — Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and Psi Beta Honor Society — and served as the Student Government Association president this year after being elected by her fellow students the previous year.
Clover Baker-Brown, a professor of communications at the school, who chaired the committee that selected Artis to speak at the commencement, said her story could inspire anyone, not just students of the school. Artis was selected because she presented her speech well in front of the committee and had an uplifting story, Baker-Brown said.
“Her story truly epitomizes how Prince George’s Community College transforms lives,” Baker-Brown said. “Prince George’s Community College gave her a second chance to be the best that she can be. I think that she took that opportunity and she seized it. She seized every ounce of it.”