Harvard-bound homeless grad 'overwhelmed' by ovation
Dawn Loggins, 18, at her high school graduation ceremony in Lawndale, North Carolina, on Thursday.
June 8th, 2012
05:09 PM ET

Harvard-bound homeless grad 'overwhelmed' by ovation

Dawn Loggins - whose inspirational story of going from homeless to Harvard inspired millions - walked across the stage late Thursday at North Carolina's Burns High School to loud cheers.

When her name, Ashley Dawn Loggins, was intoned, it brought down the house. Everyone in the auditorium erupted with enthusiastic yells and whistles. Most rose in a standing ovation to honor the first person from Lawndale, North Carolina, to ever be accepted to Harvard.

A CNN story on Dawn earlier in the day caught like wildfire through social media, with nearly 60,000 people sharing her story on Facebook. Thousands more tweeted Dawn's tale.

From homeless to Harvard

Dawn Loggins never gave up on her dreams, even when she was homeless. She heads to her dream school, Harvard, this fall. Watch her story, told by CNN's Martin Savidge.

Homeless student to go to dream college

CNN's Randi Kay talks to rising freshman Dawn Loggins about graduatnig and realizing her goal of attending Harvard.

As Dawn took in the crowd's applause Thursday, she beamed with pride and accepted the leather-bound folder that housed the diploma she’s worked so hard to get. She then broke down in tears.

“All I could hear were their screams, I couldn’t hear myself think," she said later. "That’s when I got overwhelmed and really emotional. I felt like all my hard work had finally been recognized.”

After shaking hands with school administrators, she went back to her peers, lost in a sea of light blue caps. Outside, she was mobbed by well-wishers.

A man whose granddaughter was in Dawn’s fourth-period class said, “I don’t know what you’re doing honey, but keep doing it because it’s working. And you’re gonna get where you wanna go.”

Dawn had been abandoned by her drug-abusing parents last summer and left to fend for herself her senior year. She worked as a school janitor to make ends meet, and school staff pitched in to help.

“It feels amazing to finally be done and to have worked so hard for this and to finally have achieved it," she said, crying.

Dawn’s family made the ceremony. Her mother, stepfather, grandmother, half-sisters and cousins attended. But it was her brother, Shane, she wanted to see most. He'd helped her throughout her life. “Love ya,” he told her Thursday evening.

Her custodial supervisor, Julie Barrett, said simply: “Congratulations baby! I am so proud of you."

Dawn, 18, plans to take a week off of work. But she’ll be back at Burns High in a week to once again take up her mop and broom as she works through the summer to help pay for college. While Harvard is paying for tuition, room and board, she still has to pay for textbooks, school materials and other living expenses.

She thanked everyone who has reached out to help with donations. She will use the money to set up her nonprofit organization, named Uplift. “There are other students whose situations are worse than mine, and their futures are less certain,” she said. “The only way to get out of poverty is through education.”

For teens in similar situations as hers, Dawn encourages hard work and communication. “I encourage people in poor situations to talk to someone at school, to talk to a guidance counselor, or talk to an administrator, a teacher. Because the school system can help,” she said.

Any contributions can be sent to: Burns High School/Dawn Loggins Fund, 307 E. Stagecoach Trail, Lawndale, NC 28090.

Dawn's story echoes that of another:  In 2007, The Foundation for a Better Life, a Colorado-based group that promotes values through advertisements, started a nationwide "Ambition" billboard campaign.

"From homeless to Harvard. AMBITION. Pass it on," the billboard said.

It featured a photograph of Liz Murray, a once-homeless girl from the Bronx who graduated from Harvard and went on to become an author. Her story was captured in a 2003 Lifetime movie.

The Foundation for a Better Life says Liz's story was to show people that "dedication pays off - and, if there's something that you want in life, you can better yourself and just work for it."

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Filed under: Education • North Carolina
soundoff (389 Responses)

    May her steps be lightened from this day forward, and may her triumphs of the past
    be but the beginnings of a bright future.
    That she already knows that hers was not as hard a task as many others are engaged in is a real credit to her inner character,may that character trait lead her to wisdom.
    May the fates be kind"

    June 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • nell


      June 8, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • TriXen

      Well said.

      June 8, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      Godbless very well said.

      June 8, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. cong

    is that Lebron James next to her? haha

    June 8, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kareen

    That girl is going to make it big.
    In years to come, we will see her so called parents come to her for support. Count on it.

    June 8, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • brad

      Maybe she will be able to help her parents get on track. Though not the best parents by any means, they did give birth to her, and got her close to the finish line. Now this is a girl I don't mind my tax money helping.

      June 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • DAB

      You are right Ms Kareen. That irks me to the core because they left this child to fend for herself along with brother they can go get high on drugs. MF!

      June 8, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Serge Auclair

    We need more stories like this. I'm sure there are others doing great under real hardships. It's a very refreshing change for all the negativity carried by the medias.

    June 8, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dennis1020

    There are still stories of inspiration and achievement coming out of the American landscape. Now we just need to figure out a way to export it to the halls of Congress.

    June 8, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lu

    Wow. This story gives me goose bumps. I can't wait to see who she grows up to be.....beat its gonna be someone really AWESOME!!!! Dawn: pretty + smart + good heart + hard worker = only the sky is your limit !!!!!! Good luck– good life !!!

    June 8, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Shari Lopatin

    “The only way to get out of poverty is through education.” Couldn't have said it better myself, Dawn. I come from two parents who were both teachers, and I'm a former education reporter. Your story is, BY FAR, one of the most inspirational stories I've ever heard. A huge, heartfelt congrats to you. You deserve it, and I cannot wait to see what comes from your hard work and incredible education in the future.

    June 8, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  8. maryam

    I see her 20 years from now as the President of the United States of America. If Barack Obama could do it so would Dawn Loggins!

    June 8, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. maria

    I don't know you but I am very proud of you! good luck in your extensive future the best for you! you are exceptional what a great example tfor future generations if you made it ,anyone can make it!

    June 8, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      She didn't make it yet. People gave her money and the press coverage and a push in the right direction. The rest is actually going to be hard work!

      June 9, 2012 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. maria

    If you hate so much CNN ...what are you doing reading and commenting in CNN site? I am confused ,get off of it!

    June 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      Where does it say "hate" or "dislike"? Just saying it happens every day, but the media are not always called. Go watch a Lifetime movie, OK?

      June 9, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  11. maryam

    What's got race to do with this? YOu could look at it that way if you wish, but you could also argue that they reported on a white woman.
    If you want to call everything RACIST, then there is no room for educating the rest of the people.
    It is obvious that RACISM exists as it always has had in this country and a lot more perhaps even in the early days of the birth of this nation. There are ton of people who are shuffled out of the picture when attention should be given to them, but there is no way, we can all move forward unless we stop acknowledging the primitive act of RACISM and leave it to those who want to succumb to it.
    Post this story to the iRporter. send it to social media, tweet it if you want. Put it on many places where attention is focused like major online magazine.
    What these kids have in common is DETERMINATION due to a hard and heavy PERSONAL HARDSHIP. Tell the WORLD what is COMMON between the RACES, NOT WHAT SEPARATES THEM.

    June 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alexander

      I agree racism still exists. One must think, its only been about 1.5 new generations
      since the civil rights movement.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • bill

      It has been 3 generations since the civil rights movement

      June 11, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. mike

    And to think she did this without the support of the government. Just friends, teachers and the community. When will the government learn to get the heck out of our way and let the people of this country run things.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rhonda

    What an inspiration! Brought tears to my eyes! Love you Dawn!

    June 8, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jbkorn02

    Just saw on Jimmy Kimmel how one student got too much of an applause and the principal and superindendent want the kid who was probalbly the most popular in school to do 40 hours of community service before he can get his diploma back. They took it from him because they thought his family was doing all of the cheering becasuse families were told to wait unil all names were read to clap. It was the students and not even his family. He is refusing to do any comunity service and I agree

    June 8, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dgeugene

    A wonderful story but why should someone be homeless in this country in the first place?

    June 8, 2012 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      @ dgeugene If you read the original article you would know that her parents were drug addicts. One day she went home and they were no longer there. She spent time sleeping on friend's couches and even the floor before a school bus driver offered to let her sleep at her house.

      June 8, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |
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