Blog posts regarding Survivors

Nikki Petkopoulos Ulzi survivor

You Call the Shots: How A Survivor is Redefining Success as a College Student

I’m a sexual assault survivor. Wanna know why I’m telling you? My grades reflect that. I’m not that success story about a young woman who overcame it all and got a 4.0 GPA. My GPA is fine, but it’s not what I wanted — it’s not what I was capable of achieving. But I’m doing okay; in fact, I’m doing well.

I’ve seen it time and time again: students with extenuating circumstances letting their past tragedies define their future. Unfortunately, our educational system is not always forgiving when “life happens.” You try to take the time off; you try to incorporate “self-care” into your busy schedule. But then there are the agonizing days — days where you can’t get out of bed and would rather lose participation points than face another panic attack. I understand.

By the time application deadlines roll around — whether they’re for grad school, a job, etc. — you feel like you don’t stand a chance. Who can you ask for recommendations, who can really vouch for you? How do you explain away your GPA or that period of unemployment?

The answer is this: you can. And you must. When I was staring at my B average grades, knowing full well that the work I produced deserved A’s, I knew that I had to make up for this supposed deficit. I was slowly pulling out of my extracurricular activities because I felt that I still needed time to heal. What did I have to offer? How was I going to get out of this pit?

Help Yourself First

Nikki Petkopoulos Ulzi survivorI started advocating for myself. In the last two years, I’ve grown more in ways that I never would have otherwise. If anything, I accelerated my growth because of my experiences. I have grit, I have perseverance, I have empathy, I have resilience. Small problems don’t affect me anymore because I’ve been building myself up. Yes, I’m not perfect; there are days when I need to take a step back. But I’m strong.

At the start of every school term I make sure to explain to my professors the situation I got myself out of, just like I’m telling you. Sometimes I go into the grisly details if they’re accepting. I do this so I’m not at a disadvantage from the beginning. We work out how I can best succeed based on my strengths and weaknesses.

Through trial and error I’ve learned what kind of tool I am for companies, organizations, teams, etc. I thought to myself, “How can I make my story employable? How can I use it to my advantage?” For the longest time I felt that my future was robbed from me. That’s not the case at all. I was given the opportunity to illustrate my uniqueness. My story is different because it is mine. And I made it my mission to learn how to sell it instead of wallowing in it.

You might be thinking that your problems don’t compare to mine. They don’t. Whether it’s the loss of a family member, mental illness, financial troubles, they are yours alone. Companies want to see who you are at your best, but they also want to see who you are at your worst. Who are you really when (pardon my French) shit hits the fan? They want to see how you’re an asset when a company faces a problem.

Companies want to see who you are at your best, but they also want to see who you are at your worst.

It’s impossible to go through life without earning some scars. Some of the best people I know have experienced some sort of tragedy, but they turned it into an inspirational story. I encourage you to look at your resume, transcript, application — whatever it is, and find what makes you different. If your life was a movie, where is the rise and fall? The climax? The call to action? Reflect on your shortcomings, then overcome.

I have gotten more job offers this year than at any time in my life, which surprised me because I thought I was losing steam. But the more I networked and reached out, the more I told my story, the more I resonated with people who wanted me on their team.

No matter where you are in life, you can overcome. The first step is taking that initiative. I’d be lying to you if I said it was easy. I’d also be lying if I said it’s not worth it.

If you’re interested in sharing your story or getting involved with Ulzi or Ulzi Stories, you can email

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7 Years of Silence: My Story & Why #MeToo Matters

Seven Years Silent

Each day it seems the news has another survivor sharing their story of sexual assault or harassment. Sometimes these stories take years to uncover. My story has remained quiet for seven.


I’ve shared bits and pieces of my story with friends over the years, but I never wanted my family to know. I didn’t want the man to get into trouble – and for a while, I was protecting myself. I knew what would be said about me; I knew the whispers of victim blaming that would surround my story. 

So when the #MeToo movement came in Fall 2017, I struggled for hours about whether I should also raise my voice. Ultimately, I did. The assault was then, and this is now; I’m ready to tell my story. 

An Impressionable High School Girl 

A little over seven years ago, I thought I’d found the man I was going to marry. I met him when I was 15 and he was 19 – my tennis coach. He was gorgeous. Blue eyes, the brightest I’d ever seen. He was sarcastic and fun, and he gave me a hard time on-court and during running drills. At most, he showed little interest in me, but my crush was real. 

It wasn’t until the summer I was 16 I thought I may have a chance with him. He called me every night, invited me shopping, took me out for ice cream, let me tag along at band practice, etc. I was excited because the big college guy was showing interest in me – the choir-nerd, bad tennis-playing, rising high school junior. 

Nothing happened between us that summer other than fun memories and me falling in love. In the fall, he went back to college and forgot about the impressionable high school girl back home. 

The following summer, 2010, he came back for me. First, we started hanging out at his friend’s house where he introduced me to marijuana and alcohol – two things I’d never seen, let alone tried. 

Three weeks after he came home, he asked me to come to his apartment in his college town for lunch. I got there at noon to find him five or six shots into a bottle of Sailor Jerry. 

“You’re A Machine” 

He sat me down and offered me a half shot with a chaser of orange juice. It was my first taste of alcohol in my whole life, but it went down smooth. The orange juice not as well. Two more half shots and two more swigs of orange juice. He knocked back the shots one after the other, no chaser needed. “You’re a machine,” he said just before he had me walk a straight line, 

“You’re a machine,” he said again just as the Beatles music pumping through the surround sound stopped. 

He disappeared to his basement bedroom where the stereo was, promising to be back soon. I picked up the nearest guitar, strumming through some of the simpler songs I’d been learning. When my fingers started cramping, I realized how much time had passed. Suddenly it felt like he’d been gone for hours. 

I laid down the guitar on the couch and walked down the stairs. In the basement, I found him face down on the floor by the bed. Concerned, and naive to the true effects of alcohol, I shook him awake. He came to, laughing, his eyes looking heavy. He sat up and leaned towards me with that smile I had dreamt about so many times. Soon, we were kissing on the bed. 


The next thing I know, I’m waking up to blood. Blood everywhere. I think I must have started my period. I remember nothing of the night before—the closest my memories could get was waking him up off the floor. With the blackout curtains, I had no idea what time it was, but my body was stiff and it felt late. I look for my pants only to discover them at the base of the bed. I picked them up and find my phone on the ground; it was late evening already. 

I go up the stairs to the bathroom. I’m panicked. Embarrassed and afraid of what he might think. In the bathroom, I see blood in my hair, sticky and dried all throughout. My pink petal hippie vest harbored dark red smears. I mean I had gotten my period unexpectedly overnight before, but what the hell? 

I clean myself up and stuff a wad of toilet paper into my underwear. I know I’ll have to wait hours for a real pad or tampon–I was supposed to perform at youth group later that night. 

I descend the stairs back to the basement; he wakes up as I fall down them. 

He just laughed and said, “I gave you a big creampie,” and suggests I’m now pregnant. From there, I’m not sure how I felt. Scared and alone in my head, I blocked out most every thought. He drove me to the local pharmacy for the morning after pill, but I couldn’t buy it because I left my ID at his place. So, he drives to another pharmacy and goes in to buy it himself. 

After that, I drove home to go to church and didn’t speak of the event for years. The guilt and shame was too much to handle. 

Defining It 

For a long time, I didn’t really know what happened. Nothing in my head clicked. I thought it was premarital sex. Something I was responsible for and something that could have been prevented. Something that I would be punished for if my family ever found out, and something God would punish me for in the afterlife. It wasn’t until I was telling my best friend what happened and he called it rape that the word even entered my mind. For me, denial was easier than acceptance. 

After the situation was defined, it took me even longer to come to terms with it. I thought of all the survivors of sexual assault out there, and felt I didn’t deserve to put myself alongside such strong women. I didn’t feel as though I qualified. I didn’t want to take those titles away from those who truly survive it. 

Then and Now 

Over the years, as (I would venture to say) all women experience, there’s been plenty of harassment from colleagues, supervisors, higher-ups of my workplaces who have inappropriately kissed me, commented on my social media, asked me out (even when married), and countless other instances. 

Each time, I was scared of their power or the judgment that could be cast on me. 

Each time, I was scared of the potential whispers that I was too nice and gave men the wrong idea or was leading them on. I was scared of what my family would say and their chastising that I shouldn’t have put myself in those situations. 

But claiming my #MeToo meant owning the pieces of my story that scared me. 

It meant admitting to the public and to myself that I, too, am a sexual assault survivor. That I did, in my own, messy way, heal from that event and survived it. And deserved to stand alongside the women in my life and in the news that so bravely came forward. 

I found strength in the women of the #MeToo movement. They helped me accept that I am one of them, I am strong, I am a survivor, and I always have been. And I’m grateful for that.


Have a story to share? We’d love to hear from you. Please email our Editor in Chief, Hannah, at You may choose to remain anonymous, and we won’t publish your story without your permission. Thank you for sharing your story; you are crucial in our community’s effort to ending sexual assault.