2016 Young Alumni Excellence Award

ErinErin Merryn

Western Illinois University graduate Erin Merryn has been named the recipient of the WIU Young Alumni Excellence Award. Merryn was recognized Saturday, May 14 at the Spring 2016 Commencement Exercises.

The Young Alumni Excellence Award is presented to an alumnus/na who has demonstrated exceptional accomplishments in his/her chosen field, exceptional service in local, state or national affairs and exceptional service in support of the advancement and continued excellence of Western, and is not yet 35 years of age.

Merryn, a 2008 social work graduate, is an author and human rights advocate. In Summer 2015, Merryn's personal crusade to pass Erin's Law, a law to help protect children from sexual abuse, reached a milestone when she achieved the halfway mark in her goal to get a sexual abuse prevention law passed in all 50 U.S. states. In early June 2015, the law passed in Alabama and later that month Alaska became the 26th state to pass a version of Erin's Law. A bill for the law has also been proposed in 20 more states. Only 4 states have not introduced it. Merryn also appeared in numerous public service announcements as part of the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation "Speak Truth to Power" series.

She also appeared in The Learning Channel (TLC) documentary, "Breaking the Silence." Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, has written three books on the topic since her graduation from Western. Formerly serving as a youth and family counselor, Merryn resigned from her job to work full-time on Erin's Law and to advocate for its passage in all 50 states and to raise awareness for sexual abuse prevention. She has often been called on as a commentator for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America and the Today Show, to name a few.

Merryn first spoke to a crowd about her personal sexual abuse at a WIU Take Back the Night rally and march at Hanson Field in 2004. Illinois was the first state to pass Erin's law in 2011. The law provides that the Comprehensive Health Education Program requires age-appropriate sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention education in grades Pre-kindergarten through 12, along with training of school staff on the prevention of sexual abuse.

Merryn turned her childhood diary into her first book, "Stolen Innocence," when she was a senior in high school. It was then that she began flying the country putting a face and voice on this silent epidemic speaking at events to audiences across the world.  She is also the author of "Living For Today" and "An Unimaginable Act."

She was named Glamour's "Woman of the Year" in 2012. Said Katie Couric, the 1992, 2002 and 2006 "Woman of the Year," "Erin Merryn is the 'Woman of the Year' because … she's taken her personal crusade and turned it into a public one. So many children will be protected because of her."

People Magazine named her one of fifteen women changing the world alongside Oprah and Hillary Clinton in June 2014.

View Past Young Alumni Excellence Award Recipients