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. Joon Yi

    Wow. What a great young woman! I'm a guy and I've had tears in my eyes after reading and watching her story. The world needs more stories like this, uplifting the human spirit into doing things we never thought imaginable.

    I hope she can become a great person in this world and share her ambition and enthusiasm with the world. She deserves it for being who she is and for inspiring and letting everyone in the world know that humanity is not lost

    June 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Lakshmana S

    This is really very inspiring and I am very happy to read it and see it on TV several times. Facing so much troubles with courage and that too in such young age and at the same time acheiving such good grades is no ordinary thing.
    Best wishes to her and congratulations to her on her acheivement.
    One more thing that is interesting in this story , How that community and staff of the scholl stood behind her and supported her. It is very nice and happy thing to note that they did a very good job showing the humanity.
    God is there ... every where .... once again proved.

    June 9, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. lolzu

    When she gets to Harvard, she's going to be totally out-classed. She will have to take a light course load and work very hard just to graduate. Oh God, and the hipster glasses.

    June 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • harvard18

      I went to Harvard and I think she will be very successful there. 1. There is no such thing as a "light course load" at harvard - at least not the first year. But everyone is studying all the time, so it's actually not that bad. 2. Most of the college students do come from well-to-do families, which means she will actually have an easier time balancing her studies with normal life activities (laundry, etc.) that other students have always had done for them. And despite what one might think, most of the students are very open and eager to meet people from all backgrounds. So, socially, she should be fine! Congrats to her!

      June 15, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Careful

    Careful those student loans don't make you homeless again....

    June 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |

    Sorry to pop the ballons but education is but training not a cure all for poverty.
    It is what one does with that training that detetmines the educational level one attains.
    75% of. todayds degreed populace not worth the time and cost it took to train amd now to maontain
    them at the self inflatefed levels of worth, and outside of their vocations are ad useless as teats on a boar hog

    June 9, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      I get you, but your spelling leads me to believe it's not you. Anyhow, good evening. 🙂

      June 9, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jack

      She no doubt has accomplished more already in her short life than you ever will in yours.

      June 9, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • RussTnuts

      Is she still having a big O? Keep it going girl!

      June 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Boy, you done got yerself a good edumacation! Yer so smart!

      June 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • drschwarz

      I literally have no idea what you just said.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • GenghisKhan

      I seriously doubt that any Harvard grad will fail to find a job. Seriously? There will always be a job waiting for the best and brightest. As far as higher education is concerned, in general, there is no guarantee of jobs and students need to research there majors and there college experiences to prepare for their careers. Best part of a college education is learning how to learn, how to be independent and getting the time to think through their options.

      I do have serious concerns about the cost of a college education in America and the fact that most Americans go into debt to give their kids a chance. We have to find a way to reduce this burden. Investments in affordable education, infrastructure and enabling job creation are keys to a better future young Americans.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unique, Just Like Everyone Else ;)

      You said (corrected for spelling/grammar); “Sorry to pop your balloons, but education is only training – not a cure all for poverty. It is what a person does with that training that determines the educational level they can attain. 75% of today’s degreed populace is not worth the time and cost it took to train and now to maintain them at their inflated levels of self worth."

      How do you figure that YOU are maintaining 3/4 of 'today's degreed populace'? That's something like 95 million people in America that hold some sort of degree, I believe. They maintain themselves, no matter what their self worth says, they get paid generally quite a bit less than that.

      THIS young lady, however, has been doing exactly what you seem to be whining about, all her life – working for what she wants. And look at that, she got it! And she's still working.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Chet

    I wish this young lady the very best life has to offer. She certainly deserves it. How wonderful that school staff saw her potential and were willing to help her. They will be blessed for what they have done to help her..

    June 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Jonathan

    Did anyone notice that Harvard is paying for tuition? This story is about a lucky girl, hardly an inspiration. If someone went from homeless to paying for Harvard without much assistance from others, now THAT would be an inspirational story.

    June 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • SharkMan2

      Yeah, she's so lucky that she got an academic scholarship for busting her hump to overcome all of the obstacle in her life. In what fantasy world of yours does hard work and self-determination simply equate to just getting lucky?

      June 9, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Flamingo Kid

      I could not agree more. Finally! Someone who actually uses their brain and makes sense!!

      June 9, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mindy

      It's called a scholarship!

      June 9, 2012 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • PR

      That's a nonsensical statement. If you started out as homeless,how are you to pay for your Harvard tuition yourself? Harvard is not doing this as charity or for publicity. They recognize the fact that she got excellent grades despite her abject poverty and total absence of parental guidance. If this is not achievement then what is? Of course, such achievement is to be rewarded with tuition paid acceptance into Harvard or any other school.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      Luck? What is it about people of your ilk that you constantly feel the need to write-off the hard work and self discipline of others? I suppose you would have felt better about her had she gotten in not because of academic achievement but because she was a legacy student? (The child of a Harvard grad?)

      June 9, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unique, Just Like Everyone Else ;)

      Jonathan: I know someone that paid off their student loans in 8 months by becoming homeless. She sold all her things she didn't need (not much, right out of college) and lived in her car while working full time at the "oh wow, my first real job" after she got her degree.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. NicSin

    Wow ... This lady is truly an inspiration to me. I watched all the videos in full amazement. Please all contribute to this lady. Most of people will break in her situation and turn to drugs or other social evils. But she has guts. Getting into Harvard in no mean achievement.

    June 9, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • NothingLikeAGoodStory

      You have a lot of common sense! LOL!

      June 10, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
  9. Rashed Ahmed

    My father went from poor child in Bangladesh who couldn't afford to buy shoes, to PhD from Oxford University (St. Catherines Coll)...now that's inspirational...this girl is also pretty damn good...not as good as my dad of course...

    June 9, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • PR

      How is your father's case more inspirational than this girl's? Poverty is poverty whether you are poor in America or in Bangladesh. Granted that this girl at least got decent food when your father may have gone days without a proper meal. But, without truly knowing what she may have gone through, your comparison is less than tasteful. It is natural that you do and will love your father and his sufferings may mean more to you. But, you shouldn't lessen this girl's sufferings and the achievements despite her disadvantage.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Flamingo Kid

    WOW! What a joke this story is. This girl was NEVER homeless. In fact, she was provided with a free place to live, free meals, and a nice little job. She also had family in her life (evident by the fact that so many came to her graduation- including mom) and she had friends and the support of her entire school system. She never showed herself to be a genius in any subject. She did not even have a 4.0 GPA. Why in the world was she given a full scholarship to Harvard? Answer: To make Harvard look good and receive some publicity. I'm sorry folks, but this girl was more blessed than most, certainly not more disadvantaged. This is the sort of shallow feel-good story that you sheep fall for that makes me want to puke. There are REAL cases of TRULY disadvantaged people who made it to the top who's stories we never will hear. How sad.

    June 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • mbrbss

      You are an absolutely disgusting human being, "flamingo kid."

      June 9, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • NothingLikeAGoodStory

      Stop right there. You have failed to use common sense and are trying to use logic and research to enlighten those who post comments based on perception and belief. I laugh at thee!

      June 10, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  11. banasy©

    Congratulations to this young woman.

    June 9, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Satan

    I'm sure this fluff story will be used as proof that ANYONE can accomplish ANYTHING in the United States. Unfortunately, she's 1-in-a-billion.

    June 9, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. thinh

    Congratulations you ! l hope ,one day l can meet you ... l love you so much ! ...

    June 9, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. MrDif

    This is silly. She could EASILY make MORE than enough money to house herself and pay tuition.

    June 9, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. zoomzom

    Off course it takes a villag to raise a child, these people should be proud of themselves.

    June 9, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
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