At the age of 17, Nicole Paladino knew her only way to a better life was through education.
Paladino, a North Little Rock native and University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law student, had a far from average childhood. She said after years of living in an unstable home, she was forced to mature quickly.
Before she began her freshman year of high school, Paladino’s parents separated and her mother remarried.
Paladino had a choice to make: Living with her older brother and father, who she said was suffering from a gambling addiction, or moving with her mother and stepfather, a man she barely knew.
For the next three years, Paladino lived in Pearland, Texas with her mother and stepfather.
Although she resided in a home with two adults, Paladino’s mother worked as a flight attendant, leaving Paladino to live as she pleased.
Instead of giving in to her circumstances, Paladino chose to surround herself with positive friends and mentors.
“I had incredible mentors who loved me, taught me things, and cared about me,” she said. “That made a huge difference to have a good example to help me figure out the right things to do.”
Paladino’s dissatisfaction with her home environment and determination to live a better life, led her to make decisions that seemed unorthodox for a teenager.
“I wasn’t happy where I was,” she said. “I knew I wanted to go to college and I knew the lottery scholarship had passed. To qualify, you have to graduate from an Arkansas school, so I told my mom I was moving back to Arkansas to compete for the scholarship.”
Paladino finished her senior year at North Little Rock High School, while living with roommates and working at Sears. She decided she had no time to participate in high school activities.
“My entire life, since age 12, was about getting to independence,” she said. “I just got lucky enough, I guess, to realize my environment was not normal, and if I wanted to do something different, education was my ticket.”
Before graduating high school, Paladino applied to UA Little Rock and filled out numerous scholarship applications.
She was awarded a $32,000 scholarship from the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps, in addition to the $2,500 Arkansas Lottery scholarship.
Excited to have achieved her goal of a full ride to the university, Paladino wasted no time in setting her sights on something else.
“There’s no ultimate end to a goal,” she said. “Once you reach one, you have to set another.”
Once she was settled into the university, Paladino chose a criminal justice major. She knew she would soon go to law school to pursue a career as a prosecutor.
“Growing up, I had a lot of people who spoke for me when I needed it,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be in court as a trial lawyer to help people find their voice like people helped me to find mine.”
One person in particular who helped Paladino and her brother in their time of need was their grandmother, for whom Paladino helps provide care.
“She never made excuses for my parents and always took our side,” Paladino said. “When you’re a kid, you think, ‘Is it me?’ She was always very clear that it wasn’t us and that meant so much to me.”
Taking the strength she gained from her grandmother and others, Paladino worked to accomplish her goals.
After her undergraduate years at the university, Paladino graduated summa cum laude and won Undergraduate of the Year from her department.
Her accomplishment was due, in part, to her work on a Bureau of Justice grant with Arkansas Community Correction, where she and Dr. David Montague partnered to evaluate re-entry services from inmates upon release. Together, they published various government reports.
After graduating from the UA Little Rock Bowen law school, Paladino plans to take the bar exam and work in the Little Rock community.
The Spring 2017 Commencement will be Saturday, May 13, at the UA Little Rock Jack Stephens Center.