Sandra Hoston's life was on a downward spiral from years of abusing alcohol and heroin starting in her late teens.
At 16, Hoston was pregnant with her first child. Soon after graduating from a Chicago high school, Hoston started hanging out with the wrong crowd and began abusing heroin to fit in.
"It's just a false sense of reality ... I was addicted for 25 years," said the now 51-year-old Elgin resident who has since turned her life around.
Hoston returned to school in 2010 in pursuit of an associate degree in human services at Elgin Community College. Friday, Hoston will give the commencement speech during the college's graduation ceremony at 7 p.m. in Building J, the Events Center, 1700 Spartan Drive.
A single parent, Hoston said the turning point in her life was realizing that her young son was ashamed to be seen with her in public.
"My kids didn't respect me ... they didn't want anyone to know that I was their mother," she said. "I just got tired of the way I looked, the way I smelled, the way people treated me."
Hoston got into a substance abuse treatment program in 2004, and afterward stayed at a women's crisis shelter in Elgin until she cleaned up her act.
"I did not want to go home because I had a fear that I would use again," said Hoston, who has been sober and heroin-free for nine years.
Hoston said the social workers who helped her made her realize there are other women going through similar challenges, and don't talk about it.
Hoston said she wants to share her story of overcoming addiction and an abusive relationship to get to this point. She is hopeful her story can be an inspiration to others.
Hoston has maintained a high grade-point average at ECC, and is a member of Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society. She plans to attend Columbia College in Missouri next spring to pursue a bachelor's degree in human services.
"A lot of students my age, even younger ones, they don't get past their first semester," she said. "I stuck it out no matter how hard it got. It was because of the (ECC) professors. They encouraged me to keep going ... that made all the difference in the world."
Hoston said her four children are proud of what she has accomplished. She is looking forward to seeing their smiling faces in the crowd Friday.
"When they see me doing this to better my life ... the younger ones, it encourages them not to give up," she said.
"There's nothing I did, it's all God. God has me around for a reason. I don't know what it is, but I'm grateful."