Recent Scripps alumna wins Oscar at 2019 Academy Awards

Helen Yenser SC ’17 won an Academy Award on Sunday night. (Courtesy: Scripps College)

Movie fans across the nation turned on their televisions, computers and phones Sunday evening to watch the 91st annual Academy Awards. The night was filled with memorable moments, from director Spike Lee’s first official win to another performance of “Shallow” from “A Star is Born.”

But for 5C students, one highlight topped the rest: Helen Yenser SC ’17 received an Oscar for her work on the documentary short “Period. End of Sentence.”

Yenser graduated from Scripps College in 2017 with an English degree focused in creative writing, and currently attends the University of Southern California in pursuit of a master’s degree in screen and television writing, according to her LinkedIn page.

Yenser was a classmate of some current Scripps students just a few years ago.

“It’s one thing to see a taboo yet informative and super important movie get the Oscar,” Sondra Abruzzo SC ’19 said. “It’s another to know that someone who went to Scripps at the same time you were there was up there on that stage receiving the award with her team.”

In an interview with ABC7 News, Yenser’s high school English teacher Melissa Berton, who produced the documentary, explained their journey to the Oscars. According to Berton, Yenser attended a United Nations conference in high school to advocate for women and girls. There, she heard about a machine made by Arunachalam Muruganantham that creates sanitary pads at a much lower cost than commercial brands.

Back in California, Yenser and her fellow students, with the help of Berton, began a Kickstarter campaign for their new nonprofit, “The Pad Project,” to provide Hapur, India with one of the machines, Berton said.

According to their high school, Oakwood School, as their fundraising went on, the students and Berton decided to create a documentary. The film chronicled the struggle faced by young girls in India when they first get their periods — many are forced to drop out of school as a result of stigmatization — and highlighted the impact of the pad-producing machine for which Yenser helped raise money.

Berton said they never expected the film to go all the way to the Oscars, as it was originally intended as a marketing tool. However, “Period. End of Sentence” received “Best Documentary” at enough qualifying festivals to secure an Academy Award nomination and eventual win.

Yenser is listed as an executive producer of the film, and credits herself with creating the tagline “periods should end a sentence, not a woman’s education.” The documentary is available on Netflix.

Watching Yenser’s success made Abruzzo “even prouder of the amazing women I go to school with. It underscores the fact that each of us has the potential to do incredible things once we start forging our own paths after Scripps.”

Meghan Bobrowsky contributed to this report.

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