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)
  1. Puckles

    This is another JOKE of a story. This woman had her entire school and community backing her right from the beginning. NUMEROUS family members were even present at the graduation. She has not gone without ANYTHING in life. She was provided support,family, friends, a nice place to stay and a job. All you sheep who are acting like this is such an inspirational story really need to get a life. There are REAL success stories out there where the people have faced REAL hardship. This girl is a joke.

    June 9, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • 3mendandablindguy

      It must suck to never see the good in life.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Munna

      It's sad that today people want a 'truly exceptional' story to read, that small things don't touch people's hearts anymore. We want bigger, better, more exiting, more surprising, more outstanding. This is what has become of our superficial world today. Many people out there, including me, have much more than Dawn Loggins and this story reminds us to be happy with who we are and what we have. We are not being 'sheep' for thinking this is an inspirational story, we are recognising an achievement by a girl who strives for the best. The fact that she had people supporting her, helping her to become someone is more incredible because individuals today rarely help others, unless it benefits themselves. We live in a greedy world, but this story reminds us that there ARE good people out there, many of them, which rarely make the news because the good that others do is not an 'real' story.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Puckles

    This is another JOKE of a story. This woman had her entire school and community backing her right from the beginning. NUMEROUS family members were even present at the graduation. She has not gone without ANYTHING in life. She was provided support,family, friends, a nice place to stay and a job. All you sheep who are acting like this is such an inspirational story really need to get a life. There are REAL success stories out there where the people have faced REAL hardship. This girl is a joke!!!!

    June 9, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. ron

    Good for you young lady.

    June 9, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  4. Hugues Millaire

    The point is not: "youth graduate despite homeless". It is: "The world still rules despite there are homeless students in the richest countries"

    June 9, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dawn Stedronsky

    This is an amazing story. What a wonderful girl. I hope the next chapter in her life will be wonderful! She deserves it!

    June 9, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. Chris

    I want to know what kind of people give her candles to study with instead of offering her the couch in their house or even a mattress in the garage? I'd take that young lady in, in a heart beat!

    June 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. F L May SR

    Puckles
    Why are you so bitter. This young lady has stuggled all her life to geet ahead. Her teen years were spent supporting herself. Good LUCK Dawn, Hope your future is as bright as the Noon day SUN. If there were more young people like you, what a beautiful world we would have.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. doug

    All the best to this young lady, may she graduate, get a good job, start paying taxes and not wanting her money wasted by the public sector so she votes Republican, and becomes what Obama calls the enemy who should be punished.

    Here's to many years in the future of being a bigger enemy to the Democrats than terrorists when she actually produces something of value in the private sector and makes a positive contribution to society.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donald Hall

      Oh, that's great, bumpkin. Yeah, let's hope she becomes a good Republican who outsources jobs to India, China and Mexico then blames the Democrats for unemployment; let's hope she becomes a good Republican who turns a blind eye to the outrageous practices of the big banks who robbed the public blind in 2008, and continue to do so; let's hope she becomes a good Republican who opposes health care reform so that insurance companies can continue to say "die" to those who need coverage most; let's hope she becomes a good Republican who cares about her own wallet more than the general well-being. The last thing I would wish for this wonderful young woman is that she should become a "good Republican."

      June 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • someguy

      You could have better summarized your rant into this more positive statement:

      All the best to this young lady, may she make a positive contribution to society.

      June 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      Having seen her giving interviews on CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC can't help but feeling she'd make a great spin doctor later on. Am I being cynical?

      June 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      The story has been nagging at me since it went viral. Now I know why. The whole thing has been planned for years. Being homeless, abandoned by family, working as a school cleaner, president of 5 student clubs, multilingual, straight A all the way to Harvard. How does one do all that? Harvard has been duped.

      June 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Washingtonian

    What's up with the parents attending? I thought they were more or less out of the picture. No shame I guess.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bicuramach

      In another interview, Dawn said her parents abandoned her because they believed it was in her best interest. That actually makes sense, because she got a lot more sympathy and support from the school and her community than she otherwise would have if she still lived with her parents!

      June 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  10. legalshieldruss

    #captionthis – I am deaf and was unable to understand the video. Please caption your online clips! Thanks.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Donald Hall

    My previous post was meant as a response to another poster, but apparently this board doesn't permit that kind of response.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. guesswho22

    Outstanding achievement by this young lady. Glad to see a white girl (the other minority) get an Uplift from the Harvard University. They only get so many academic scholarships to hand-out, this girl is well deserving. Harvard is a very liberal college, so its great to breed an open mind in young people who can then decide whether or not they want to move to the "dark side" or help make America better by enriching the middle class, not the 1%.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rebecca

    She is truly an inspiration. She went through so much and never gave up. I hope that more young people could have the same drive and determination as her. Well done and congratulations. I know you will do well as you move on to Harvard.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ray

    Too good for the likes of you.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. someguy

    This young lady is proof that anyone can be successful no matter how poor you are.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
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