MANATEE -- A former dropout risk who turned his life around at Lakewood Ranch High School has become, at 19, the youngest student to serve on the Florida Board of Governors for the state university system.
Michael Long grew up in Sarasota but moved to Myakka City to live with his father in his junior year. Prior to that he had spent a few months with AMI Kids, a nonprofit that seeks to help troubled youth who have failed in a conventional school settings.
Long, New College Student Alliance co-president, was elected chairman of the Florida Student Association in May. Among his duties is an appointment to the Florida Board of Governors through May 2012, where he is a full voting member.
Thursday marked his first meeting of the Florida Board of Governors representing the state’s 11 public universities.
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Apparently, it was a dilly. There were upwards of 900 pages of supporting documents to read and several controversial votes.
Long requested that a vote on tuition differential increases be removed from the consent agenda and that the increases be voted on individually for each of the 11 universities.
He opposed the increases for the University of North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University, where student government presidents said the increases would be a hardship on students.
While he dissented with other board members, he understood the reason why colleges were seeking the increases in a tough economy.
His vote would not surprise Joanne Chmielewski, guidance counselor at Lakewood Ranch High School, who calls Long one of her favorite and most memorable students in the past 20 years.
“He came to us with a 1.8 GPA. I got the typical story from him that he wanted to turn his life around,” Chmielewski said.
What she didn’t realize was that he really meant it.
Two weeks after getting his class schedule at Lakewood Ranch, he was back to see her requesting advanced placement and honors classes, where he excelled.
A few weeks later, he was back to see her again, requesting enrollment in virtual school for another crack at the classes he had blown before enrolling at Lakewood Ranch, Chmielewski said.
He did so well that in his senior year, he was dual enrolled at Lakewood Ranch and State College of Florida and was able to hold down a full-time job and a part-time job at the same time, she said.
Long not only qualified for a Bright Futures scholarship, but led his Lakewood Ranch classmates in scholarship dollars awarded.
“He spent his senior year applying for scholarships, submitting several each week. He was remarkable,” Chmielewski said.
She’s most impressed that Long has been on a mission ever since to give back, to be a motivational speaker to troubled students, and to help them turn their lives around.
Long calls Chmielewski a mentor, and a champion for helping him become the first in his family to attend college.
He started his turnaround after taking a long look at where he was headed and deciding that he didn’t want to go there.
“I am going to do everything I can to make myself a better person. Education was a really a great way to do that,” he said.
“I want to help people. That’s my passion. That’s what keeps me energized, what keeps me going,” Long said.
Asked where he wants to be 15 years from now, Long said he can practically guarantee that it will be some kind of public service.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021,