Gisely Colón-López received her bachelor of arts degree in Puerto Rican and Latino studies, with a minor in anthropology and archaeology, at this year’s baccalaureate commencement ceremony, where she also gave the salutation before an audience of thousands.

“It feels like a dream I never realized was possible,” said Colón-López, who was born in Camuy, Puerto Rico, and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. “It has been humbling to know how many people are excited for me.” She is the first person in her immediate family to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Colón-López had planned to become an educator, but her political consciousness was awakened during the time she spent as director of a youth program in Harlem, and was further expanded when she began coursework at Brooklyn College. “My courses helped me to understand academically and socially how local, national, and international policies affect the lives of urban youth and urban communities,” said Colón-López.

Her work with youths and her studies led Colón-López to participate in two City University of New York (CUNY) programs: the Model New York State Senate Session, designed to develop students’ leadership skills in a legislative setting, and the Ernesto Malave Leadership Academy, which develops leadership values and skills through experiential civic engagement, advocacy activities, and leadership competency training. In 2014, she interned for New York State Assembly member Robert J. Rodriguez of the 68th district in East Harlem/El Barrio section of Manhattan. During her internship, Colón-López, who is fluent in Spanish, worked directly with constituents who needed her language translation skills or required assistance with housing and medical care. She also met with other local officials, and networked with community activists and leaders like Iris Morales, whom Colón-López says served as an inspiration and role model.

“Participating in these programs also made me keenly aware of the direct impact elected officials and their staff have on the communities they represent,” Colón-López said. “The satisfaction expressed by constituents, when you’ve assisted them with something that was overwhelming them, is a feeling that never leaves you. It motivates your scholarship and desire to be directly, politically involved.”

Earlier this semester, Colón-López represented CUNY and Brooklyn College at two major caucuses in Albany, N.Y. She was there to help constituents rallying for affordable housing and fair housing laws.

“They had the opportunity to meet face to face with the elected officials who had the influence to provide them with solutions to their needs as contributing members of the community,” she said. “It was powerful to witness them interacting with law and policy makers.”

Colón-Lópezwho has a cumulative 4.00 GPA and who participated in “Countdown to Commencement,” the college’s social media campaign celebrating the experiences of its 2015 graduates using the hash tag #BCGrad2015is planning to obtain a Ph.D. and pursue a career in politics and education. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Mellon Mays Fellowship and the New York League of Puerto Rican Women‘s College Award for academic excellence and service to the community. She’s not only elated that she will leave with the college with the salutatorian honor, but also grateful for the experiences she takes with her.

“Brooklyn College prepared me to be a lifelong learner and critical thinker. I was able to learn a part of history that had never been presented to me, empowering me to continue to explore,” she said. “If it weren’t for the tremendous support I have received from the college and the numerous professors and staff members who have taken time to provide me with mentorship and guidance, I would have never realized the infinite number of doors that are available to me as I finish this phase of my academic career and begin a new one.”