When Amber Mariano opened her application letter from Harvard in her senior year of high school, she cried – not tears of joy, but tears of rejection.

It had been her goal to go to law school – Harvard, in particular, that she worked so hard for – and then eventually run for political office after starting a family.

But when life handed her lemons, she made lemonade and forged a path to become the youngest person elected to Florida’s House of Representatives at 21 years old.

Mariano, a senior, enrolled at the University of Central Florida as a political science student, joined the Student Government Association and searched for internships that would satisfy her craving to be on the front lines of the legislative system. She landed a spot in UCF’s Legislative Scholar Internship program to work with Florida House of Representatives member Rene Plasencia. But there, she found that being an intern wasn’t enough – she decided she was ready for office.

Last November, Mariano, a registered Republican, won the election for House District 36 in Pasco County where she’s from. She ran a successful campaign despite raising less money than her opponent. She campaigned door-to-door in the county to garner support, all while juggling a full-time course load at UCF in Orlando an hour and a half away from Pasco County. With the support and inspiration of her family – particularly her dad who is a Pasco County county commissioner – she achieved her goal of becoming an elected official much younger than she, or anyone else, expected.

Mariano’s story, in her own words, is featured in Cosmopolitan. See here for the full story.