Others living Lindsay Marshall's life might have become a victim, shunning life's possibilities and sinking into despair. In fact, many do. Living with a drug-addicted mother who was sent to prison when Lindsay was 13, a pivotal time in a young person's life, wasn't easy.
Lindsay escaped. First through books and reading, then to her grandmother's care and eventually, her father's home in Reno, Nevada. But it was a sixth-grade reading assignment that started Lindsay on her path to college, graduate school and eventually teaching and pursuing a doctorate.
"I read 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and loved the book," explained Lindsay. "I ended up performing a dialogue from the book for a small speech tournament. My teacher said it was cool and I remember being excited about her support."
That teacher referred Lindsay's dialogue performance to a state competition, where she did well. Her love of debate was born, though it would take time and support to fully grow.
Her teachers continued to provide emotional support as Lindsay faced the difficult times surrounding her mother's arrest. She made it through eighth grade in Omaha before moving to Nevada to live with her dad.
Fortunately, a teacher in Reno took up the role of Lindsay's supporter. Mrs. Howard, the freshman honors English teacher, took an interest in Lindsay even though she didn't make it easy.
"I was a metal head kid who sat in the back of the room," said Lindsay. "I didn't talk to many other students my first semester in school."
Lindsay says she was a pretty typical high school kid, taking creative writing and metal shop, being involved in speech, debate and student government. She didn't do much formal career planning, though during high school, she wanted to be a lawyer. She did talk with her teachers about the careers that would be good for someone interested in writing. Lindsay took the ACT and earned a pretty average score. And she wasn't sure what she would do after high school.
Then, a teacher once again provided a push to change Lindsay's life. Mrs. Howard, the freshman English teacher, recommended Lindsay for a Horatio Alger Scholarship. Winning it gave Lindsay the financial means and connections to go to college. It also let Lindsay know that she wasn't alone in the struggle to improve her life through education.
"Meeting other students at the Horatio Alger Scholars Conference showed me that my experience was not shameful or limiting. This event confirmed that education can create opportunities that seem out of reach," said Lindsay. While in college, Lindsay participated in the World Parliamentary Debate Tournament in Glasgow, Scotland. And she graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
Lindsay has since volunteered for the Horatio Alger Association, speaking in the Supreme Court chambers before Justice Clarence Thomas. She earned her master's degree at the University of Illinois–Chicago and is now working toward her doctorate.
And she is teaching, seeing a little of herself in her students and encouraging them like her teachers did.
"There's a lot to be said of your past experience shaping you and your future," said Lindsay. "I found my confidence through school."
To help build that confidence, Lindsay advises first-year students getting frustrated by the process to realize that college will give them a lot more freedom to make their own changes. Part of college, she said, is about being a little unsure and then finding one's self.
With the right encouragement, support and attitude, anything is possible for all students.