RENO, NV - Imagine trying to keep your grades up in school while worrying about whether you'll have food in your stomach every night.
"There was a really difficult time in my life where my mother and i were homeless together, and it was really difficult, in part, because I was still in school," said Ivon Padilla-Rodriguez, a 20-year-old UNR student. "so at the same time that I had to figure out where to sleep on any given day, what to eat, I was also trying to study for AP tests. I was also in rehearsals at school."
But Ivon used her experiences growing up as motivation.
"Ultimately, it was that situation that I took strength from," said Padilla-Rodriguez.
Now, she is emerging is one of the leading voices within the Latino community and as a strong leader at UNR, where she is enrolled in the Honors program.
After years of perseverance, she has done what few others have. She was the winner of the Dr. Pepper college tuition giveaway and ended up with the $100,000 scholarship in 2011. Ivon's work also led her to create the a youth theater program called Spotlight Academy for Young Actors at the Good Luck Macbeth Theater, a theater program for low-income, at-risk Hispanic kids.
Earlier this month, Glamour magazine named her one of their Top 10 College Women of 2014. Just two weeks ago, she was named a Truman Scholar, one of nation's most prestigious undergraduate honors.
"The Truman Scholarship was a very recent scholarship that I was awarded," said Padilla-Rodriguez. "It was a very long application process. I had to receive an official endorsement from the university. I had to interview with a panel of very prominent individuals in the fields of law and legislature right. It's a scholarship worth $30,000 for students who are interested in committing their life to public service."
Now, Ivon has her eyes set on the future of this nation, and she has a strong role model to guide her.
"I really, really look up to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who actually recently sent me a letter," said Padilla-Rodriguez. "And I was really excited about that."
Her personal inspiration has her striving to become an even louder voice for the often voiceless.
"I'd like to work with some kind of non-profit with lawyers who work specific for the Latino communities and fight injustices in the communities, and later in life, I'd like to become a federal judge," said Padilla-Rodriguez.