Giselle Martinez of Newburgh, N.Y., a 2020 graduate of Mount Saint Mary College, returned to her alma mater on Thursday, October 28 to discuss navigating life after college and her journey from graduate to local political candidate.
When Martinez, a first-generation college student, earned her bachelor's degree from the Mount, throwing her hat into Newburgh's political ring wasn't initially in her plans. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Martinez worked with several local nonprofit organizations to get food, face coverings, and other essentials to those in need.
"I grew up in this community and I've always loved this community," she said. "I went out a lot on days where I probably shouldn't have...but all I could keep thinking about was how there's so many families around me that don't have food."
When current councilwoman Karen Mejia announced that she would not be seeking reelection, Martinez decided to run for Newburgh City Council in Ward One.
"If I didn't do it, then who was going to?" Martinez said. "I had enough experience at this point working for the state government. I figured that I had enough empathy because I grew up in this community."
As she noted, Martinez is not a stranger to the political process: In mid-2019, she wrapped up a semester in Albany as the session assistant for Senator Jessica Ramos (D), Senate District 13. The semester-long internship offered talented students such as Martinez an immersive experience in the legislative process, including legislation development, legislative sessions, and interacting with constituents. It also led her to a job working for Assemblymember Jonathan Jacobson (D-Newburgh).
The Martinez campaign has been a grassroots effort from the start, with her and her supporters meeting face to face with the people of Newburgh. The work was exhausting, she said, but "I don't regret a single day of it."
In the end, her campaign paid off, and Martinez won the democratic primary in June of this year. She now hopes to win the upcoming election on Tuesday, November 2.
When she was a student, Martinez was active on campus. She was president of the Latino Student Union, a resident assistant, and she consistently made the college's Dean's List. A student of the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), she attended leadership development conventions in New York, San Francisco, and beyond; served her local community; mentored her peers; and more.
"My primary goal on campus was...bringing in different perspectives from students," she said. "I enjoyed my four years here a lot."
For current Mount students, Martinez had some simple, yet poignant, advice.
"Say yes to all your opportunities and take a risk," she said. "A lot of my best experiences on and off campus have been because I decided to say yes to [taking a risk]."
She added, "Treat everyone with respect and kindness. Everything you put out there...comes back to you tenfold."