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. Ben23

    Newt Gingrich had a good point. Putting kids to work as school janitors will help the kids in the long run.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Bryan

    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."

    - Too late, Donald, she's already demonstrating conservative values. It seems she already appreciates the value of earning her own way and not relying on the govt or welfare programs to be successful. She may not be politically active, but she's obviously not playing the victim (like "Julia") and waiting for BHO to rescue her with govt handouts. Score another one for the good guys!

    June 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • doug

      Donald could only spew lies and hate in response to facts he wishes weren't true, typical Democrat.

      Colbert gives little bots like Donald the fake republican they spew hate against who only exists int their warped delusional minds. Since their is not a single Republican in all of America that fits the description that Donald and other Democrats cry about, Colbert has to play that person on tv for 'dem. You would think that since their enemy doesn't really exist that they would observe the facts and go by reality but that is to assume that their is goodness in their hearts, unfortunately these Democrats can only offer hate and lies, no wonder they are atheists, Donald can't even think of one day having to answer for his actions to a higher power.

      June 9, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Brandy

    She deserves it.

    June 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Patrick

    Who cares what political party she decides to join? She is a person first and foremost. Her political affiliation does not define who she is; and she has worked very hard to get where she is at. May her hard work and perseverance continue to open doors for her...

    June 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Solo

    Did she have the true credentials for admittance? Harvard is the kind of school with an acceptance rate that only admits the very best and I have to wonder if she's among them.

    June 9, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • MarkinFL

      She was a straight A student. But more than that, she was a straight A student under conditions that usually promote failure. Admissions looks at the whole person and they probably liked what they saw. She is academically capable and driven enough to succeed. They probably see someone they will ultimately proud of as a Harvard graduate.

      June 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. nysc

    Inspirational young lady... lots of uninspiring bloggers trying to put a political spin on one girls dreams in order to mirror whatever bigoted belief they may harbor.. shame...it says a lot about the state of our country.

    June 9, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      its a true inspiration to everyone but unfortunately our country is doomed in recession since 4 yrs now and people are upset due financial crises unable to meet their daily basic needs and they have right to comment what they feel when politicians fight for power and money rather thinking about country. people confidence boost when we heard news something like this.

      June 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Fed Up

    I thought that Liz Murray dropped out of Harvard... she found her "calling" as a speaker and author.

    June 9, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • iat

      Liz Murray returned to Harvard and graduated a few years ago

      June 9, 2012 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mei

    Very inspirational story! My parents also abandoned my sister and I after they divorced. We were "A" students until we had to take care of ourselves. Years later I'm trying to go to college on my own, paying one class at a time since I really can't afford to take on any loans. I think this is great that Ms. Loggins gets to go to college and that others in the community are helping her. When I was in school, people turned a blind eye to neglect and even abuse (as I was also molested during that difficult time). I noticed Ms. Loggins is still working that janitor job to save up for her college expenses. At the college I'm going to, the textbooks are almost $100 each or a bit less if you get them used. If she is taking four classes at a time, she'll need $400 just for books and that doesn't cover other fees she might need and notebooks, other materials, etc. I hope she is able to utilize the fund donations for her college education because she will need every penny. May God keep you safe Ms. Loggins because the world can be very cruel. You keep pushing ahead!

    June 9, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Travismatthew

    She deserves nothing but the best. A true inspiration to everyone. Great story, lets keep it a great story...keep politics and the negatives out for once.

    June 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. gclaheh11

    I am glad that this girl didn't feel sorry for herself and is trying to make something of her life. I wonder if she didn't publicly broadcast her life story if she would get into Harvard. Not meaning to offend Dawn but there are probably more students who didn't get into Harvard who are more deserving than she is. Are all those Whites who want to get into Harvard now going to make up some story about themselves to get in? Interesting....

    June 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Are you serious? First of all, she got into Harvard BEFORE the story went viral, so you're a moron just based on that. Then we can cover your obvious racist comments you dolt. Dawn appears to be together enough to not be offended by your idiotic comment, but that's ok, there are plenty of us out here that you did offend, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM IN THIS COUNTRY.

      June 9, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kristin

      are you serious? I cannot believe you would leave such a hateful msg towards a young person who had all odds stacked against her and came out on top. get over yourself and be happy for somebody that has had something good happen to her

      June 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vanessa

      We didn't hear about her story until after she was accepted into Harvard.

      June 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • debbie

      Maybe you should read before you post. She was accepted to Harvard before the story went viral from the timeline given in this article.

      June 9, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mike

    I live in North Carolina. We've taken some pretty well deserved lumps of late for some of our lesser accepting political and community leaders. It's very nice to see a good story come out for once. This young lady and her community is why I still love my state. We have our issues, but I still believe that most of the people, even those I may disagree with, still have good hearts.

    June 9, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  12. deborah john

    Wow! Wish,my daughters,had Dawn ambition they have us,both! parent. one finished,grad 12 the other2 ,well,i think they, sees the light ,big picture,gets the net,lol,it nice to have a example,in Dawn,I tell them look that girl,was homeless and look at her.I think its great,wht can i do to help,Good Luck,on the rest of your journey,kiddo,Good 4 you,Real!

    June 9, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. 0Patrick0

    Does anyone know how to contribute to whatever fund there is to support her miscellaneous expenses, such as travel back and forth from Cambridge and home, clothes, spending money. Where do I send a contribution?

    June 9, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • debbie

      Wow – so many people on this board cannot read! The address is in the article. Spend a little on yourself, too. A reading comprehension course is probably offered at your local community college.

      June 9, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jean

    Good for you, amazing young lady! I don't even know you, but I am so proud! Hooray for your hard work and for rising above extreme difficulties to achieve success!

    June 9, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gella

    Her parents had the nerve to show up after they abandoned her? Shouldn't they be arrested for child abandonment, or was she already 18 when they took off?

    June 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
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