Former addict encourages others after earning degree: 'How about that for motivation?'

Posted at 1:50 PM, Jul 06, 2021

A former addict is advising others to stop selling themselves short after earning her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Washington.

When she graduated in May, Virginia “Ginny” Burton posted before and after photos of herself on Facebook. One was a haunting mug shot of Burton taken in 2005, while the other showed her smiling in her cap and gown.

Burton included an inspirational message in her caption.

“How about that for motivation? I honestly thought I'd die on a park bench with a needle in my arm or by (a) gunshot to the head. I would've never in a million years thought my life would look the way it does today,” she wrote. “Stop selling yourself short. You don't know what tomorrow might bring so you might consider starting today.”

Introduced to drugs as a child, Burton told “The Today Show” that she bounced from one juvenile detention facility to the next.

By 2012, Burton says she was addicted to heroin and homeless. Her three children were taken away as she served multiple prison sentences.

Eventually, Burton got sober while she was incarcerated and she’s now eight years clean, “The Today Show” reports.

The University of Washington says Burton decided to return to school in 2017 after becoming frustrated with the criminal justice system.

“Having experienced addiction, incarceration, and seeing her family’s experiences with the criminal justice system, she recognized education was the key to continuing her work more intentionally,” said Burton.

Burton’s hard work and passion seem to be paying off. The university announced last year that she was one of only 62 students selected for the prestigious Truman Scholarship. The university says the scholarship recognizes future leaders driven to make change at the policy level.

“Students are selected based on outstanding leadership, demonstrated civic engagement, academic potential, and a desire to pursue a career in public service,” said the school.

Scholars receive up to $30,000 for graduate school to help prepare them for a career in public service.

At the time, Burton said she planned to earn a joint law degree and master’s degree in public administration in order to advocate for prison and criminal justice reform.