Horatio Alger Success Stories
A Personal Biography of Lindsay Marshall
My mom became a nurse when she was 20 years old, a natural occupation for one so good at caring for others. As a girl, I loved seeing my mom in her uniform, starchy and bright, with white shoes squeaking across our kitchen floor. There were many things that my mother's uniform hid, though. There were many, many ways in which she wasn't able to care for others, for me, or even for herself.
I was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. My parents divorced when I was 2 years old and my father, a jazz musician, moved to Reno, Nevada to find more consistent work. I visited my father for a month every summer, and still remember how homesick I was for my mom and my younger brother. When I was 11, my visits to Reno--and the rest of my life--changed with a phone call. I heard my dad in the living room talking to my mom, and then he came into the kitchen and handed me the phone. He looked strange. I won’t pretend to remember exactly what she said in that conversation, but I recall my mother telling me she was in trouble, that she had a drug problem she’d been hiding for a long time and she was going to need help.
My mother, a nurse on the cancer ward of the biggest hospital in Omaha, had been stealing and using her patients' medication for more than 15 years. She was turned in to the authorities by a co-worker and was soon fired from her job. She went through rehabilitation, which failed, and was placed under house arrest due to her continued drug use. Even with the possibility of prison hanging over her head, my mother was unable to beat her addiction. When I was 13, the day after I graduated from eighth grade, my mother was sentenced to two years in the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women. I didn't even get to say goodbye to her.
Within a few weeks, I was forced to leave my younger brother, grandmother, friends, and childhood home. I moved to Reno to live with my father and started a new life. Things were difficult in Reno too, my father and stepmother went through a messy divorce shortly after I arrived there, but I was able to build strong relationships with friends, teachers and my father. While I was a senior in high school, a teacher who knew my story recommended me for the Horatio Alger Scholarship, which I received later that year. The scholarship saw the adversity I'd faced not as a weakness but as a strength of character. My family had spent years hiding my mother's addiction – they pretended, just as she did, that it didn't exist. When I attended the Horatio Alger Scholars conference in 1997, I met dozens of students from all over the country who had faced hardships similar to and very different from my own. I realized in one week what hadn't occurred to me ever before – that I didn't have to pretend any longer, I could be honest about the life I'd lived, and I had nothing to be ashamed of.
Because of the Horatio Alger scholarship, I was able to attend Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. While at Lewis and Clark, I was invited to participate in the World Parliamentary Debate Tournament in Glasgow, Scotland, where I had the opportunity to interact with, and argue against, some of the most talented debaters and barristers in the world. In 2001, I received my BA in English Literature, and went off to graduate school at UIC in Chicago, Illinois. I received my Masters degree in Literature there, and was offered a full-time teaching position at the University, a position I've now held for almost three years. Currently, I am in my first year of the Ph.D. program at UIC, where I am working toward my doctorate in rhetoric and composition.