Eustis High School Alumni

Eustis, Florida (FL)

Alumni Stories

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Laura Reinhardt

Laura Reinhardt

Class of 2006

The great Sam Ewig once said, "Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all."

I was born with a rare eighteen inch tumor. “Werewolf Syndrome,” the newspapers called it. Doctors told my parents I had no chance of surviving; however, seven surgeries (to remove a growth the size of a cantaloupe, reconstruct my face and scalp from skin grafts and to eliminate all traces of melanoma) and a year of hospitalization later, their daughter was alive. But they would not exhale for years…

My parents struggled to provide for their children and scrambled to pay over fifty-thousand dollars in charges for multiple operations that were excluded by medical insurance. To add to their burden, my father was injured in a work related incident and fighting to collect disability. My older brother was dabbling in a life of crime, gangs, and drugs.

My mother quit her job and opened a family daycare to pay the bills. She chose to stay home to provide the most normal environment possible for me. When I was old enough, she began working three jobs. She gave up her dreams of pursuing her M.A. in psychology when my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and my brother was sentenced to four years in prison. But my parents made sure we had what we needed and made all of our educations their number one priority.

Thus, I stayed committed to attaining my goals. I dual enrolled at the local community college, joined the varsity soccer and softball teams, committed to volunteer work and was confirmed in the Catholic Church. I simultaneously graduated from high school with honors and my Associates in Arts degree from Lake Sumter Community College. I received multiple scholarships and awards, and was voted “funniest” of my senior class.

After completing high school, I joined VISTA/Americorps and I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for the duration of the summer. I contributed to the building of houses by installing siding and fencing, hanging drywall, framing and painting. I learned the value of working hard to give someone who has very little a piece of the American Dream.

Last summer, I completed an internship with State Probation and Parole in Tavares, Florida. I worked intensively with the intake officer, assisted probation officers in each type of supervision, learned what it would be like to carry a caseload, and learned the dynamics of working with the offenders. More importantly, I learned that where these offenders have come from, and the lives they have lived, bear striking parallels to mine.

My years of college, of textbooks, of lectures have given me the rules for interacting with people, the theories of why persons behave the way they do, the stories, both first and second hand, of lives lived in the most troubling of circumstances. However, after completing my internship, I have realized there are no rules for interacting with people and there is no theory suitable to fit the lives of those in a compromising position.

Some criminology theories believe that offenders rationalize their behavior in order to continue acting out without feeling any remorse. Other criminological perspectives believe that offenders are too primitive to behave any other way. Yet, despite what the theories may state, offenders are mothers and fathers living from paycheck to paycheck, businessmen and doctors hiding a secret from the world, teenagers and elderly battling an atrocious addiction; they are people who have made an awful mistake, maybe too many mistakes. As shocking as this may sound to some people, I want to help those “horrible” criminals. Resources like Goodwill’s One Stop Career Center, free transportation, and Charlie Crist’s initiative for civil right restoration allow offenders to obtain respectable jobs, decent homes and a place in the community.

I am currently a University of South Florida alumni. I majored in criminology with a minor in sociology. I maintained a 4.0 GPA, graduated in the top five percent of all students at the university and I am a member of the Pi Gama Mu and the College of Arts and Sciences Honor Society. I am now proficient in American Sign Language - a valuable skill. I continue to volunteer at Lake Hills School for the profoundly mentally and physically handicapped, whenever I have an opportunity, I attend University of South Florida functions and I just finished employment with Florida’s first Confucius Institute at the University of South Florida.

I chose to be so involved because it was my way of learning responsibility, time management, punctuality, diversity; it was my way of becoming a mature woman. I managed to ‘juggle’ all of these activities because that is simply what I do; I cannot settle for anything less than one-hundred and ten percent. I have summarized my early experiences for you, not to be self-serving, but because if I were to omit this information, I would be remiss in describing how I’ve developed the tenacity that makes me what I am today. It will be one of my greatest accomplishments to continue to represent the University of South Florida in all that I do.

My plan is to apply to graduate school and complete my Master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration at the University of South Florida. After that, I am not exactly sure what I will do or what career path I will take, but I do know that sometimes hard work and perseverance are the only guarantees in life. My passion is helping people believe in themselves and compelling them to take the first step toward regaining some control over their lives. I know I cannot change the world, but I have been reared to believe I can make a difference one person at a time. My grandfather used to say, "There but for the grace of God go I." None of us are exempt from tragedy; some of us have learned the hard way to be resilient simply because we have no choice.

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