When you see Margaret Hall a recent ASU graduate, you wouldn’t know that she had spent time in federal prison.
Six years ago, the 47-year-old was jailed for a class C felony and served a six-month sentence.
But Margaret’s life of crime is already a thing of the past. Today, the woman radiates joy and confidence, an aura that became more apparent when she marched on her graduation day at Arizona State University (ASU).
After getting out of prison, Margaret changed her ways and decided to go back to school.
“Strive for bigger dreams and bigger goals. I didn’t want my children to think that was going to be the last chapter of my story,” she explained.
Being a convicted felon came with many challenges, including self-doubt and stigma, but Margaret mightily stayed the course. She enrolled at Glendale Community College and transferred to ASU.
Margaret has never looked back since then. And through her sheer hard work and dedication, she managed to earn three degrees in five years.
“Every semester for the past five years. No summers off, no breaks,” she said.
Along the way, Margaret earned several scholarships, including one from the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, which provides scholarships and grants to women age 35 and above seeking a college education.
Last week, Margaret proudly walked the stage in Desert Financial Arena, graduating as a summa cum laude with a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and pre-law.
Margaret’s goal is to start a grant writing business to support non-profit organizations that help other individuals achieve their dreams.
“It’s not where you start, but it’s where you end up,” she said.
Another recent graduate who inspires is Elizabeth Bonker, a 24-year-old woman with nonspeaking autism.
She hasn’t spoken since the age of 15 months old, but she managed to deliver a moving commencement speech at Rollins College using a text-to-speech computer program.
Elizabeth is among the four other valedictorians in her class who got a perfect 4.0 GPA. And when it came time to choose who would deliver the speech, she was unanimously selected by her peers to do the honor.
And Elizabeth didn’t disappoint.
Speaking to 529 graduating students and their families, she began: “Today we celebrate our shared achievements. I know something about shared achievements because I am affected by a form of autism that doesn’t allow me to speak.”
Elizabeth, who graduated with a degree in social innovation, went on to talk about her heroes: Helen Keller and Fred Rogers, aka Mister Rogers, who she described as the college’s “favorite alumnus.”
“When he died, a handwritten note was found in his wallet. It said, ‘Life is for service.’ You have probably seen it on the plaque by Strong Hall. Life is for service. So simple, yet so profound,” Elizabeth said of the late television host.
There are 31 million nonspeakers with autism globally, and Elizabeth’s dream is to give them a chance to communicate—just as it was given to her.
She also wants to change how society sees people with autism.
“Just because someone cannot speak doesn’t mean they can’t feel and think,” Elizabeth said.
You can listen to Elizabeth’s entire speech here.
These women truly deserve to be recognized for their grit and hard work!