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. Robin Foster

    I don't understand how people come out talented or smart. It's very strange. That's nice. Good for her!

    June 11, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. heather

    I think this was a fantastic example of how a COMMUNITY rallied around a young woman in need. They all saw the potential she has as well as her determination for hard work and at times, survival. Kuods to Dawn and her Community!

    June 12, 2012 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Ben

    Salute to Dawn ! What an inspirational story. Very very proud of her. Quite an example to the capitalist-society. Dawn is just breaking, you have a bright days ahead of you Dawn. Keep up your hard work and continue to believe in yourself. Wish you all the best at Harvard. I know you will come up with flying colors after Harvard. God Bless you !

    June 12, 2012 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
  4. montyross

    her hard work and determination will be ridiculed by liberal staff and student body and now will be the time to truly overcome...

    June 12, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ryan

    She wasn't homeless, and she had a place for 17 years. She accomplished something but the publicity isn't necessary. Lots of smart kids come from broken homes and go on to do great things. Look at Obama he had to eat dogs. Did this chick have to eat a dog? I dont think so. Hahaha, just kidding. Impressive none the less. The headline homeless is VERY misleading.

    June 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • mms

      You can't sleep without punching your favorite punching bag... Is that it? Why this note of resentment in your writing on what this girl has accomplished? Is it because the public school system came together to help this girl?

      June 13, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. jbs

    Stay in touch with support staff while at Harvard. It will be as challenging socially as well as educationally. Been there, done that.

    June 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Mia

    Some people are just incapable of being happy for others. Obviously, there are literally thousands of people who have overcome the odds, but a journalist can only write one story at a time.

    June 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. HeyZues

    Sure NOW that she might get something fro them, the family shows up... My only hope is that the mom and step dad got taken out back and given some North Carolina Parenting classes...

    June 14, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. slbaylor

    You're right, the headline should have read "Girl Abandoned Senior Year by Drug-Abusing Parents Goes to Harvard". "Homeless" in this case, may mean "abandoned". Do you really think her first 17 years of life were great? Do you know how hard it is to get into Harvard?

    June 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike Bush

    Ryan
    Please explain to me how the president of the United States became a part of this conversation. What is it with people like you, if you buy a larger pair of jockey short it might let the crap leave your brain.

    June 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Mark Evans

    There should be a donation button set up like was set up for the woman bullied on the bus. Together we can accomplish something for this person. Let her consentrate on her studdies while at Harvard.

    June 27, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Osama

    Congratulation to the girl, but this strikes as such a calculated move by Havard, admitting the homeless girl to get good press. I wonder if they would have admitted her with a full scholarship had she been from an average background.

    July 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • cookie

      Actually, Harvard provides free tuition for all students whose families are below a certain income level.

      July 6, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  13. ar

    We heard about her at HOSA national conference in orlando! her story is amazing!!!

    July 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Joedon

    Let's just all say job well done and now keep the momentum and exceed your dreams.

    July 8, 2012 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. allean

    Sadly, there are many other of our children in similar situations. Everyday, children in fostercare that have aged out of the system and are out on their own without a support network. I started helping out by providing housing and support whenever I found a child in this situation.

    July 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
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