Samantha Martin, ’15, Pays It Forward

Nominated by fellow graduates and faculty, 2015 Commencement speakers Samantha Martin ,'15, and Kevin Ellis, '15, were chosen to represent the best of their class. Their speeches inspired a new generation of civic and business leaders. Read about Ellis here.

by Becky Mollenkamp

Reading time: 2 minutes

Growing up wasn’t easy for Samantha Martin, ’15. The daughter of a teen mother and a father who fell in with the wrong crowd, the odds were stacked against her. Despite her difficult start, however, Martin persevered.

Martin’s journey led her to Maryville University, where she recently completed her BA in psychology and sociology. She was chosen to deliver one of two student Commencement addresses by her classmates and faculty.

“When I walked onto campus, I was an angst-filled 18-year-old with a bad attitude,” Martin said in her speech. “I had no plans and didn’t care for my lack of direction.”

Everything changed for Martin during her first semester, when a peer mentor helped her develop a sense of belonging at Maryville.

With an improved attitude and a new focus on her studies, Martin dove head first into community involvement. She volunteered for Special Olympics, worked at the campus coffee house and in the alumni office, and participated in campus events. More importantly, she spent her final three Maryville years paying it forward.

“I peer mentored first-year students because I had amazing peer mentors that encouraged me,” Martin says. “I couldn’t have graduated if I hadn’t had family here. I have the family I was born into and I have my Maryville family.”

Martin isn’t finished giving back. Currently, she is an intern with Safe Connections, an organization that works with survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Eventually, she plans to earn a master’s in social work, and then work with at-risk youth. In the long-term, she sees herself becoming a professor at Maryville, training the next generation of social workers and mental health professionals.

“I’m really passionate about education,” she says. “I found myself through education, and I found a new life through education. I want to do the same for others.”

While it hasn’t always been easy, Martin has defied the odds and is poised for success. She remains optimistic about the future for herself and her classmates.

“We are all nervous and scared,” she told fellow graduates. “We don’t know what’s coming next, but we are going through it together. We’ve got a solid foundation beneath us, so be hopeful and have confidence in yourself.”