Giselle Mason is a familiar face on Polk State College’s campuses, but it wasn’t long ago that she was the “new kid” at Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate High School, having moved from her hometown in Texas.
This semester she is not only graduating with her high school diploma, her Polk State Associate in Arts, and substantial credits toward a bachelor’s degree. She is also graduating as President of the Lakeland Student Government Association (SGA) with no plans of slowing down her education or service to the College.
At Polk State, she has accelerated her dream to a law career and will continue her studies in the College’s Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Program. She’s on track to achieving her bachelor’s degree in summer 2021 at just 19 years old.
“Everyone knows I’m a proud Texan. Texas is my home and most of my family is in Texas, or nearby in Mexico,” Mason said. “But Polk State has also become my home and I have developed a lot of friendships — a family — at the College.”
“Polk State has also become my home and I have developed a lot of friendships — a family — at the College.”
For Mason, it’s all about family.
She is a first-generation American of Mexican and Colombian parents.
“My family and the fact that I am the first to be born here has inspired my work ethic,” she said. “I have never dismissed the opportunities I have because I was born in the United States.”
She also called herself the “guinea pig” of her siblings as the oldest of three.
While her parents are college-educated and instilled in her and her siblings the importance of education, Mason has exceeded expectations.
Her goal is to receive admission into the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and pursue a career in family court.
“Due to unfortunate circumstances, my family has been through the court system before and I know that help is needed,” she said. “I want to help. I want to work with families. And if I dive into the politics side, I want to work in immigration law, because that has impacted my family as well. I want to have a positive effect on people and my community.”
Mason is on a fast track to achieving her goal, taking higher-level college courses in high school through Polk State Lakeland Gateway to College Collegiate High School. Polk State’s three collegiate high schools allow students to complete high school requirements while earning college credits at no cost to them. The majority of students graduate with their Associate in Arts degrees and some earn credits beyond their two-year degrees.
Mason brought high school and college credits with her from Texas and has already completed prerequisites and introductory courses for her baccalaureate degree at the College.
“Polk State’s Criminal Justice Program has surpassed my expectations,” she said. “The most valuable thing about the program is the professional experience of the professors. They are either working in the field or they are retired from long careers. They have provided a window for me to see that I really want to do this.”
“Polk State’s Criminal Justice Program has surpassed my expectations. The most valuable thing about the program is the professional experience of the professors. They are either working in the field or they are retired from long careers. They have provided a window for me to see that I really want to do this.”
Family also continues to inspire her route.
When choosing between political science or criminal justice concentrations, her family members in law enforcement, in the military, and retired from the military encouraged her decision.
“I have seen firsthand their influence on our community and our country,” Mason said. “I have seen that pride it brings to our family and I want to do the same.”
She also wants to continue to serve her Polk State community. She was re-elected to serve the student body as Lakeland SGA President for another academic year.
The “new kid” whose transition to a new state and a new school was made easier by her involvement in student life, Mason encourages others to join one of Polk State’s many clubs or to attend an SGA meeting to get to know their peers and the interworking of the College.
Through her involvement with SGA and the Student Activities and Leadership Office (SALO), she has had the opportunity to advocate for students in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.; write for ¡Viva Polk! Magazine through the connection she made with Polk State District Board of Trustees Chair Teresa V. Martinez, the magazine’s editor; and, most recently, participate as a member of the College’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Committee to help determine how funds will be distributed effectively to assist students. She has also participated in the Polk State Speech & Debate Team, which she says has provided experience that is certain to aid her in her future career as a lawyer.
“Getting involved opens up more opportunities than you may think,” Mason said. “Clubs and student life are opportunities to enhance what you are studying, help your community, and to have your voice heard.”
Mason will have her voice heard as the spring 2020 graduation speaker. Although the College’s commencement ceremonies were canceled due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Mason will share her remarks in a virtual graduation video that will premiere on Polk State’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on May 7 at 6:30 p.m. The video will also be available at www.polk.edu/academics/graduation.
“What has helped me through this time has been the ability to still help the student body, the College, and our community from home,” Mason shared of the many initiatives she is still taking part in remotely.
She plans to celebrate her upcoming graduation with a party in her living room with close family.
“As soon as all of this is over, though, I’m going to party the right way and celebrate my ‘double graduation’ with friends and the rest of my family,” she added. “We just have to remain positive and keep moving forward.”