Armbruster (J.D. ’20): ‘Georgia State Believed I Was Worth Taking a Chance On’
Six arrests, four overdoses, four detoxes, three inpatient rehabs, three outpatient rehabs and countless halfway houses in five years. That was the life of Alexandra Armbruster (J.D. ’20) after dropping out of Princeton University. She left college when the early stages of alcohol and drug addiction began affecting her behavior and grades.
“I got back to Atlanta and while the rest of my class began their senior year, I was introduced to opioids for the first time. By May of the following year, when my class walked in their graduation at Princeton, I was a full-blown heroin addict,” Armbruster said at Georgia State Law’s 10th annual Scholarship Donor and Recipient Recognition Award Luncheon.
Those years are difficult to talk about, she said.
“I did unconscionable things to support my drug habit,” she said. “All six times I detoxed in a jail cell, I threw up in a metal toilet, surrounded by women who resented me for getting sick in a confined space that they also couldn’t escape.”
In February 2014, she was officially pronounced a convicted felon. “I still went back out one last time. And, the last time ended with an overdose,” Armbruster said. “The paramedics were called to save my life for the last time. When I woke up in Piedmont Hospital, I knew that I had three options—jail, death or sobriety.”
She chose sobriety.
She went back to college, and graduated summa cum laude from Olgethorpe University. Then, she took a step toward following her childhood dream of becoming an attorney.
“One of the greatest moments of fear that I experienced in sobriety was picking up the phone to call the Georgia Bar Association to find out if I was still eligible to practice law in the state of Georgia,” she said.
Applying to law schools was also terrifying, she said.
“Georgia State believed that I was worth taking a chance on. Not only that, they connected me with Ms. Cathy Henson, who generously donated scholarship money to help me with tuition,” Armbruster said. “My finances have suffered as a result of my addiction, and this scholarship allows me to pursue an opportunity that most people in my position don’t have.”
Armstrong hopes to use her law degree to help others get access to treatment.
“Serving time in jail and living as an active addict for so many years opened up my eyes and my heart to the systemic inequalities in our justice system. The present emphasis on punishment, over rehabilitation, prevents convicted criminals from getting jobs, pursuing an education and effectively re-entering into society,” she said.
“I believe approaching the criminal justice system from a rehabilitation perspective will break the vicious cycle of addiction that is tearing apart society and ruining lives,” Armbruster said. “Providing opportunities for treatment could change the lives of people suffering from addiction. It changed mine. The process of recovery taught me invaluable skills—communication, collaboration, persistence, grit, accountability and self-awareness. These are skills you never learn in a jail cell.”
Armbruster is grateful that Georgia State Law and the Catherine C. Henson Law Scholarship is providing her with an avenue to pursue her passion.
“I hope one day I can help someone like me to get that second chance that will change their whole life,” she said. “This path has given my life meaning and helped me to realize that my struggles have a bigger purpose. Your scholarship donations make all of this possible and I hope that I can convey my gratitude for your generosity.”
Armbruster was one of 151 students who received scholarships for the 2017-18 academic year. She received a standing ovation after her speech. Scholarships are funded by generous donations. At the luncheon, the recipients meet with the scholarship donors.
“The scholarship lifted an enormous weight from my shoulders,” said Amanda Dixon-Shropshire (J.D. ’21), a part-time student and Dean’s Scholar who received the David Hungeling Award.
The mother of a toddler, Dixon-Shropshire spent a lot of time worrying where she’d find the money to pursue her dream of going to law school.
“Scholarships provide more than just financial assistance—they provide hope and direction,” Dixon-Shropshire said. “I’m committed to honoring the sacrifices and investments of those who have made my education possible in by making the most of the incredible opportunity that I have been given.
“My greatest wish is that someday I will be in a position where I too can give back and provide aspiring scholars with the same hope and opportunity that you have so generously given to me,” Dixon-Shropshire said.
The generosity of others such as the donors is what has helped Jarvarus Gresham (J.D. ’18) be successful and pursue his dreams.
“Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to come into contact with people who contributed to ensuring I excelled despite the circumstances or location in which I was born,” Gresham said.
The Rosenberg Family Endowment for the Johan Droogman’s Law Scholarship gave Gresham the opportunity to take part in a study abroad program, where law students studied international perspectives of children and the law in Costa Rica.
“The scholarship afforded me the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time, but more importantly to experience and to observe poverty through a different lens,” he said.
The trip further fueled his passion to help others, and he hopes his law degree will help him make a difference.
“People have assisted me at every stage of my life, and due to that, I understand the value of not only looking forward at what’s to come, but also in looking back and reaching back to people who may come behind me, especially those people who are held back by their circumstances,” he said.