Before she has a driver’s license or even a learner’s permit for that matter, Abigail Mena will have a college degree.
Mena, 14, will be Polk State College’s youngest graduate of the 129 Commencement class and in recent memory. Commencement will take place Friday at 6:30 p.m. at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland, where Mena will receive her Associate in Arts degree.
“I’ve always taken classes online,” she said. “My mom heard about dual enrollment, which was an opportunity for me to take college classes. I started skipping grades because I was working at my own pace.”
A graduate of Florida Virtual School, Mena was just 12 years old when she first enrolled at Polk State in 2021. As the youngest of three children, the importance of academics was emphasized by her parents, Enoch and Claudia Mena.
“I always encouraged my kids to get through school now and have more fun later,” Claudia Mena said. “When they worked through the summer, they learned better and retained what they learned. They were always very curious and eager to learn.”
Mena’s oldest brother Enoc Mena Jr., 24, is currently working on his master’s degree at the University of Central Florida (UCF). The middle child, David Mena, graduated with his AA from Polk State in May at just 18.
“I’m very, very proud of Abigail,” Claudia Mena said. “She’s a great kid. For her, it wasn’t just about being smart but about being disciplined. I always told her that any goal she had was doable.”
Beginning in January, Abigail will make the commute from her home in Davenport to UCF where she plans to major in psychology. She aspires to ultimately earn a doctorate degree and run her own practice.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Abigail Mena said. “I can relate to people and really make a difference in their lives.”
Despite becoming a college junior at the age of 14, Abigail said she hasn’t given up her social life. She enjoys reading, writing, playing the piano, and cooking.
“The idea that you have to give up your childhood to achieve things academically – that’s a total misconception,” Abigail explained. “I still have friends, I hang out with my family, I go to the beach. I’ve always had just as much fun as anyone else.”
Abigail will graduate Suma Cum Laude from Polk State with a 3.8 grade-point average. Although her classes were exclusively online, Mena has enjoyed her Polk State experience.
“Whenever I had to go to campus, the people were always nice,” she said. “Everything has been smooth. It feels great to graduate from Polk State.”
As the youngest graduate in this year’s class, Abigail is 1/5 the age of the oldest graduate, who is 70. For those considering an accelerated path through college, Mena offered advice.
“I’ve worked really hard,” she said. “Work through the summer, stay focused, and surround yourself with the right people who are there to support you. My mom has always supported me. My father has been a pillar in our upbringing and education and works hard each day to provide everything we need, so that we can focus on our studies and take advantage of the opportunities he never had.”