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. wiiliam

    nice to read something good and positive in this world.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rhonda

    @ Jataka You are a hate ful rac ist.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Liz

    Yeesh, bitter much? This story isn't saying that she had the most miserable life out of everyone in the country. It is about being inspirational and overcoming the odds to acheive something great despite significant hardships.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. reasonablebe

    proof that will and work can over come almost any circumstance or obstacle. take advantage of the social services offered at harvard- it will likely be a culture shock. you will succeed and everyone will be cheering you on and watching to see what you decide to do. whatever it is, it will be big.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Lizzy10

    Wow. Hat's off to Dawn, you are an inspiration.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • JOE


      June 8, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • augustghost

      Heck EVERYTHING off to Dawn

      June 8, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. paul

    i understand how u feel, with some of what u said: but read more about her full story. She had it really bad from day one , birth. Her parents skipping out, when they did, was just the latest, crappy thing in a life time of extream hardships.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      Well, unless you knew her parents, you can't say for sure they didn't do her a favor, right?

      June 9, 2012 at 7:04 am | Report abuse |
  7. NEBO

    Why is she wearing a wedding ring?

    June 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • GG

      C'mon you are better than that!

      June 8, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • NEBO

      Check out other photos, she's got on a wedding ring on her left hand?

      June 8, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • john

      Who the hel l cares?

      June 8, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • gdytko

      Some people wear a ring on that finger for a number of reasons, don't try to judge her. People like you are so confined and ignorant its sad. You need someone to spell everything out for you? Don't you ? Well, it could be a promise ring? Maybe that is the only finger it fits, so she wears it so it doesn't get lost or stolen maybe? C'mon Try to think for yourself....

      June 10, 2012 at 3:52 am | Report abuse |
  8. GG

    Very uplifting story. Best wishes for her success. She is an inspiration.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |

    I'm so proud of this gal! She's done well for herself, but let's not forget that for every one Dawn Loggins there are thousands of too-old-for-their-age teens who are in the same boat--They're just not going to Harvard. They're going to community college, vo-tech, state schools, and not-so-prestigious private schools. Not all teens in similar situations allow others' to know their pain and it's kept secretive. Be on the lookout for these ones so you can help out! Although, they may not accept "charity" from strangers or anyone. You can always try!

    June 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |

    Just goes to show that young people are up for the challenge, though this was humongous, if pushed to do so. Unfortunately, most young people today are lazy and want handouts. I see my classmates harassing teachers for grades, even abusing behind their backs. Why? Because these teachers make us earn our grades. Dawn's life is an example for those who feel devastated because they dont have iPads or are not given a gold star for just showing up in the class. This girl is a great role model of what people can do, should do; no excuse, no pity me, poor me.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. MMR

    She doesn't need to be President of the United States, she needs to be a good MOM and teach the next generation about hard work, and being a good preson.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Russell Hammond

    You can always spot the Reptilicans on these posts because they're the ones who hate stories about poor people who've managed to beat the odds.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Guero

    Congratulations and the best of luck to you!

    June 8, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Toni

    Great story. BUT. It said that her Mother, Stepfather, Grandmother, half Sisters and Cousins attended. Where were all these relatives when she needed them. I know that her Mother and Father left but what about Grandma and Aunts and Uncles? Nice to know that she lives in a town that cares.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • meg

      I don't think her mother, or her father attended. Her grandmother was there, though. I think she is homeless as well.

      I was at graduation last night, and saw it with my own eyes. It was an absolutely brilliant moment.

      June 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Roscoe Chait

      Now that people are donating money to Dawn, the parents have suddenly appeared–like hungry locusts and rats. I know that Dawn doesn't want the money that people have donated and instead wants to use it help other teens with few resources, but I urge Dawn to use the money for her care, books and education. People around the world are moved by her story and determination and they have given her a gift from their hearts, souls and pocket books. They want her to succeed. Please Dawn, honor their contribution to your life.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Crys

      article says mom was there. it is also what i was wondering, where were these people when she was homeless and needed help?

      June 9, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. danielkline19

    This is a very inspiring story. Will be interesting to see what she what she does after Harvard.

    June 8, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
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