By Betsy Cantwell
Last spring, junior Maddison Bruer stood before a room of her professors and peers to present her paper for the George Washington University’s Women’s Leadership Program. She posed a question to the group for discussion: Which words do you associate with homelessness?
The responses, as she had anticipated, were primarily negative.
After the initial discussion, Ms. Bruer offered the audience another set of words: “young, female, student, dedicated.”
She explained that these words described herself as a teenager, when her single mother got in trouble with the law, and Ms. Bruer found herself living on the streets.
“Youth homelessness is a difficult subject. It’s not necessarily that I did X and Y happened to me. I wanted to find a way to include everyone and to appeal to even the people who think homelessness is the result of one’s actions,” Ms. Bruer said.
A student in the Elliott School of International Affairs concentrating on global public health, Ms. Bruer is originally from Norman, Okla. After becoming homeless, she discovered a youth shelter called Bridges of Norman and lived there for three years.
She was able to come to GW with the support of the Power & Promise initiative. The initiative, launched by President Steven Knapp in 2009, aims to provide all qualified students with the means to attend the university, regardless of their financial resources.
“I don’t know if people realize that money is hope for people in my situation. GW provided me with the funds to attend college. GW believed in me and where I was going,” Ms. Bruer said.
Her life is drastically different after two years on the Foggy Bottom Campus, but her commitment to community—the one she came from and her new GW home—remains strong. She participates in the Women’s Leadership Program, through which she has mentored new GW students. Ms. Bruer is also a Colonial ambassador, a liaison between the Office of Alumni Relations and the student body. She served as a cabinet member for Colonial Inauguration 2013, and she works passionately to raise funds for Power & Promise.
“Power & Promise truly lives up to its name. It gives students the power to achieve their goals, and a promise that they’re believed in. That’s why I believe in it so much,” Ms. Bruer said.
Last year, Ms. Bruer received the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Public Service Award, which supports students who undertake voluntary public service. Seizing the opportunity to help her home community, she returned to Oklahoma for the summer to work with Bridges of Norman. There, she developed programs to help students thrive on their own after graduating from high school.
This fall, Ms. Bruer is traveling to India, Vietnam and South Africa to study public health. She envisions a career in global health at the World Health Organization or United Nations, and she calls the study abroad experience the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I strive to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way,” said Ms. Bruer. “I work really hard, but I think what I put out comes back.”
Ms. Bruer has come a long way during her time at GW, and she sees her journey as an accomplishment.
“I’m not afraid to share my story. I think that it empowers me because it reminds me of who I am and where I come from,” she said.