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Listen to inspirational words from Jordyn Sloan upon receiving top Abe Lincoln Awards scholarship. Kelly Wilkinson, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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For most of Jordyn Sloan's life, a college education seemed like a far-fetched dream.

She'd experienced bouts of homelessness. Lost her father in a car crash and her mother to drugs.

On Friday, as she accepted a $16,000 scholarship that would help make that dream a reality, she reflected on the journey and the lessons she's learned along the way.

"You shouldn't ever be ashamed of where you come from," Sloan told IndyStar, "even if it's a place that wasn't ideal."

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Sloan was among 20 high school seniors honored with an Abe Lincoln Award by the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis on Friday, including three other scholarship recipients from area high schools. Now in its 44th year, the Abe Lincoln Scholarship program has awarded more than $1.1 million since 1976. 

'I cried so much, and I didn't give up'

The second-place scholarship went to Pike High School senior Danielle Jackson. Jackson, whose parents both suffered from drug addiction, was removed from her mother as a toddler and moved frequently during her youth. She now ranks in the top 2 percent of her graduating class and is a member of the National Latin Honor Society, National Honor Society and Junior ROTC. 

"Someone always told me, 'Don't cry to quit. You're already hurt, you might as well get a reward from it,' " Jackson said onstage after receiving her award. "So, it's like, I cried so much, and I didn't give up. And look, I got a reward from it."

Riley Walker has had multiple surgeries since birth to correct clubfoot and a fibula condition, which eventually resulted in the amputation of his left leg before he started fifth grade. The Speedway High School senior is a captain on the football and wrestling teams. He plans to study biomedical engineering at Purdue University with the hope of someday building prosthetic limbs and devices.

Marie Villaneda will graduate as one of the top of her class at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Villaneda speaks English, German and French, is learning Japanese and has developed a system to teach Braille to children on the autism spectrum using tennis balls and a muffin pan. Villaneda plans to attend either Ball State University or Indiana University to study abnormal psychology. She was accompanied onstage by her guide dog, a Bernese mix named Bear.

Sloan hopes to study secondary education, English and journalism, inspired to create a welcoming classroom community like the ones that helped her through trying times.

Teachers were like a mother to her

She was joined onstage at Friday's ceremony by Perry Meridian teachers Jacqui Sheehan and Jessica Hunter, who she said have been the closest thing to a mother she has had since her mom walked out.

"I can't express how much of a home they've given me at Perry," she said, "and how much they have made me feel loved and cared for when people outside of school never did that."

Sloan became homeless for the first time when she was in kindergarten, after her family lost their home to foreclosure and they began living in their car. They found a home in early February 2008, not long before her parents were involved in a crash that killed her father and injured her mother.

After the crash, Sloan's mother began abusing prescription drugs, often disappearing for days or weeks at a time. Eventually, she walked out altogether. 

With no income, utilities were slowly turned off. In March of Sloan's sophomore year, she and her two older siblings were evicted.

A way to remember Dad

Homeless again, she brushed her teeth and cleaned up in school bathrooms. Slept at friends' houses. Through it all, she continued to excel academically, determined to make her dad proud. 

"He never went to school, he didn't go to college, and I knew that his greatest wish for all of his kids was for us to be better than him," she said. "And I have always thought that that was the greatest way to keep his memory alive."

Sloan is now a feature writer and photographer for the Perry Meridian school newspaper, a member of the creative writing club and environmental club, and is a leader in the school's freshman mentorship program.

Financially, the scholarship represents a weight lifted from Sloan's shoulders. Personally, it's proof that she persevered, despite every obstacle life threw at her. 

"Obviously, the misfortune I could have gone without," she said, "but it just feels good to know that it's paying off in some way and that I've survived it when I didn't think I would sometimes."

Overcoming adversity, these students shine at Abe Lincoln Awards

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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson wipes away tears of joy as she walks up to receive her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships.
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson wipes away tears of joy as she walks up to receive her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Perry Meridian High School student Jordyn Sloan, left, gets a proud and emotional hug from her brother, Shaun Sloan II, as it is announced that she is awarded the 1st Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed.
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Perry Meridian High School student Jordyn Sloan, left, gets a proud and emotional hug from her brother, Shaun Sloan II, as it is announced that she is awarded the 1st Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Perry Meridian High School student Jordyn Sloan, from left, gets hugs from her teachers Jacqui Sheehan and Jessica Hunter after Danielle received her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships.
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Perry Meridian High School student Jordyn Sloan, from left, gets hugs from her teachers Jacqui Sheehan and Jessica Hunter after Danielle received her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson smiles after receiving her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships.
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson smiles after receiving her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired student Marie Villaneda reads the braille on her 3rd Place Scholarship award presented to her at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students were given scholarships.
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Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired student Marie Villaneda reads the braille on her 3rd Place Scholarship award presented to her at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students were given scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired student Marie Villaneda, left, sitting with her guide dog Bear, is interviewed by Rafael Sanchez after being presented the 3rd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students were given scholarships.
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Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired student Marie Villaneda, left, sitting with her guide dog Bear, is interviewed by Rafael Sanchez after being presented the 3rd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students were given scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Steve Willem, left, presents Riley Walker, right, from Speedway High School, the 4th Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 were given scholarships.
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Steve Willem, left, presents Riley Walker, right, from Speedway High School, the 4th Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 were given scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired student Marie Villaneda stands with her guide dog Bear, after she is presented the 3rd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students were given scholarships.
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Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired student Marie Villaneda stands with her guide dog Bear, after she is presented the 3rd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students were given scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson, center, poses with Alex Sventeckis, left, and Rafael Sanchez after receiving her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships.
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson, center, poses with Alex Sventeckis, left, and Rafael Sanchez after receiving her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson smiles after receiving her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships.
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson smiles after receiving her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Riley Walker, left, from Speedway High School, is interviewed by Rafael Sanchez after being presented the 4th Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 were given scholarships.
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Riley Walker, left, from Speedway High School, is interviewed by Rafael Sanchez after being presented the 4th Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 were given scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Marie Villaneda, center, is presented the 3rd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired student stands with Chic Born, left, Rafael Sanchez, right, and her service dog, Bear. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students were given scholarships.
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Marie Villaneda, center, is presented the 3rd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Indiana School for the Blind & Visually Impaired student stands with Chic Born, left, Rafael Sanchez, right, and her service dog, Bear. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students were given scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson, left, is interviewed by Rafael Sanchez after receiving her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships.
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Pike High School student Danielle Jackson, left, is interviewed by Rafael Sanchez after receiving her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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Perry Meridian High School student Jordyn Sloan, center, poses with the Honorable Carol Orbison, left, and Rafael Sanchez after Danielle received her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships.
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Perry Meridian High School student Jordyn Sloan, center, poses with the Honorable Carol Orbison, left, and Rafael Sanchez after Danielle received her 2nd Place Scholarship award at the 44th Annual Abe Lincoln Awards Program, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. The Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis program was held at Ivy Tech Community College. 20 high school student were honored at the annual event which celebrates overcoming adversity in life to succeed. Four of the 20 students received scholarships. Kelly Wilkinson/IndyStar
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2019 Abe Lincoln Scholarship Award candidates

  • Beech Grove High School — Julia Reel
  • Bishop Chatard High School — Amani Gates
  • Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School — Sarah Lamb
  • Cardinal Ritter High School — Jose Lopez   
  • Cathedral High School — Grace Gumino
  • Decatur Central High School — Kaitlyn Krell
  • Franklin Central High School — Stephanie Hutchison
  • Heritage Christian High School — Hope Trentadue                                                          
  • Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired — Marie Villaneda ($8,000)
  • Indiana School for the Deaf — Anika Webster
  • Lawrence Central High School — Christian Williams                          
  • Lawrence North High School — Blake Quiroga
  • Lutheran High School — Mariah Mielke
  • North Central High School — Tatum Parker
  • Perry Meridian High School — Jordyn Sloan ($16,000)
  • Pike High School — Danielle Jackson ($12,000)
  • Roncalli High School — William Bawi
  • Scecina Memorial High School — Jordan R. Schluttenhofer
  • Southport High School — Haley Nicole Cox
  • Speedway High School — Riley Walker ($5,000)

Call IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at 317-444-6156. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.

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