Jason Ezell, a 2022 graduate from North Platte, is the winner of this year’s Dean B. Stewart Memorial Award for Courage. This award was instituted by the fraternity brothers of Dean Stewart ('62) in recognition of his tireless work to re-connect members of Phi Kappa Tau in their post-college lives, even as he was suffering from a progressively disabling neurological disease.
Ezell was chosen as the 2022 award recipient in recognition of his courage and support for his fellow NWU community members.
A first-generation college student, Ezell was thrilled to connect with his high school choir teacher, Leah Purdy ('00), who spoke highly of Nebraska Wesleyan and helped him navigate the college search process. When Ezell and his mother toured NWU, they were struck by how many smiling faces they saw on campus. Ezell knew he had found his college home.
In order to pay for his education, Ezell consistently worked three to four jobs while also taking a full load of classes. His goal was to graduate in four years with a double major in political science and business administration as well as three minors in psychology, legal studies, and gender studies - a goal he completed this past fall. Ezell was a member of the university choir and involved in many campus activities, especially those that supported and empowered others.
Ezell was a peer mentor for other first-generation students through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. For the past three years, he has also been a residential peer assistant, and worked as a student staff member in the Office of Residential Education. He describes his peer assistant work as formative to his personal and professional life as he helped to educate and mentor his fellow students.
Ezell grew up in a low-income, single-parent household. Shortly before he began college, his mother lost her leg in a nearly-fatal car accident, further straining the family’s resources. Although pursuing his goals has been challenging at times, Jason was motivated by the support of his family and by his desire to break his family's poverty cycle. Ezell hopes to give back to his community and family by capitalizing on the experiences he learned from Nebraska Wesleyan. He appreciates NWU's work to make his education affordable, and cites the personal attention given by the employees as instrumental to his success.
He recently concluded an internship at Nebraska Appleseed and an experience where he served as a field director for a Nebraska Legislature candidate. Upon graduating, Ezell began work as a community organizer and political consultant where he is excited to make an impact in Nebraska politics.
The Stewart Memorial Award honors someone who demonstrates that courage is not the absence of fear, but it is doing what must be done in its presence. The award is available to any Nebraska Wesleyan student, staff, or faculty member who has displayed remarkable courage in the face of overwhelming odds, as Stewart himself did.