#1 NYT bestselling author Linda Lael Miller

Ellen Sexton, Omaha, NE

Ellen Sexton What would the now-52-year-old Ellen Sexton go back and tell her 15-year-old self if she could?

“Instead of looking at the big picture, which many times can look so overwhelming, think about the next small step. Small steps eventually lead to big steps.”

At 15, Sexton dropped out of school, ran away from home and got pregnant. She spent a few years struggling to make ends meet with no education and two daughters. At 20, after completing her GED, she enrolled in college, determined to offer her children a better life than she had. At age 22, Sexton suffered a stroke, which left her paralyzed and partially blind. Unable to communicate with her college, she flunked all her classes and her student loans defaulted.

A few years later, Sexton returned to college. In 1983, her 5-year-old daughter was killed by a bus.

“I fell apart,” said Sexton. “My life was a downward drop. I had no interest in anything. I ended up going to prison not once, but three times, over the next 20 years. Over and over counselors would tell me that I didn’t belong there. They could see there was something more to me even though I could not see it myself anymore. Then my grandson was born, and he was identical to my dead daughter. I knew I had to pull myself together and be the woman I was meant to be.”

Sexton, grandmother of two, dreams of helping women avoid the same path she took, as well as helping women coming out of prison. She’s keenly interested in studying poverty’s impact of criminality and designing prevention programs.

“The way out is to obtain education,” said Sexton.

She will use the scholarship for school supplies.

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