After serving time in prison, mom leaves past behind to earn master’s degree from ASU

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 sentenced to six months in prison for a class C felony.

But Margaret’s life of crime is already a thing of the past. Today, she radiates joy, confidence, and this was even more evident when she marched in her graduation ceremony at Arizona State University.

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Margaret was released from prison and changed her mind. She decided to return 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.

Margaret persevered despite being a convicted felon. She enrolled at Glendale Community College, and was then transferred to ASU.

Margaret Hall with her family
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Margaret has never looked back. She was able to get three degrees in five years through sheer hard work, dedication, and perseverance.

“Every semester for the past five years. No summers off, no breaks,” she said.

Margaret was awarded several scholarships along the way, including one from Jeannette Rankin Foundation. This foundation provides scholarships and grants for women aged 35 and over who are pursuing college education.

Margaret Hall holding up her diploma onstage
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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.

Elizabeth Bonker, a 24-year old woman with non-speaking autism, is another recent graduate who inspires.

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 Bonker delivering the commencement speech at Rollins College
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Elizabeth was one of four valedictorians who achieved a perfect 4.0 GPA. When it was time to choose the speaker, her peers unanimously chose Elizabeth to be the honorary speaker.

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.

Elizabeth Bonker holding a piece of paper with the words "Life is service" scribbled on it
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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 the way society views 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 are truly deserving of recognition for their perseverance and hard work.

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