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. tom g

    I dont know her but I am proud of her determination and drive to be a better human than her parents. Congrats!

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

    She is the sterling example of how none of us are the total of what has happened to us, but rather the product of what we do with what we have... bravo! Her parents had to be on drugs to desert her, she's awesome!!

    June 8, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JOE


    June 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. The Dude

    Glad to see she is no moron and didn't thank Jesus.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. blessedgeek

    “There are other students whose situations are worse than mine, and their futures are less certain,”

    Her name is found in the Book of Life this very moment.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. FRED

    What woman could maintain this long hair with a salary of janitor? She is lying.

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

      Maintain long hair? WTF do you mean? Hair grows, you wash and brush it, the end. Your comment is kind of creepy.

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

      We are so fortunate to have morons like yourself in this country, truly was are. Ever hear of a hair net, or bandana, or hey gee what about a hat...?

      June 8, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • seriously?

      Fred: straight hair requires no maintenance. go troll elsewhere

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

      Maybe, but she's having the big O right now. It beats turning out trailer babies for the US army and whatever war they create for themselves next. Break the cycle.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • krivka

      Take the time to read the story, that is, if you can read. Read it and you may not have made such inane remarks.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • fandancy

      Try to have a happy day, Fred. You badly need it.

      June 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis H.

      Long hair is cheaper to maintain than short hair, Anal Pore. You got nothing nice to say, say nothing. Didn't your mom teach you that between times I was teaching her coitus with a big one?

      June 8, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ruth E.

      It's the easiest hairstyle to maintain,

      June 9, 2012 at 9:43 am | Report abuse |
  7. Matt

    Yeah JOE, he would. Who wouldn't?

    June 8, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Karl

    I wonder if it was awkward having her mother attend the graduation ceremony.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BP

    Great Job Hun!!!!

    June 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Canadian

    Even though I'm not related and I don't know her in any way...I don't even live in the same country....I'M SO PROUD OF HER, all the best to you dear. You're an inspiration! Great work and I admire your ambition and strength! Keep it up and the sky is the limit for you. God Bless you dear!

    June 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sixta

    As this student there are many out there making sacrifices , working hard and doing what is right to become somebody . Good luck to her . Good luck to all those students that graduated and will graduate this month all over the country.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. foreignerinaforeignland

    She isn't wearing a wedding ring, it is a girl who has a ring on who is playing with it, moving it from finger to finger. I wore a ring on my wedding ring finger as a teen and meant nothing by it. It was the only finger the ring fit on. You people are thinking way to much about it.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Lisa

    Dawn, I am so proud of you. I was in the same boat, getting the scholarship for tuition. It's the living expenses, books and pin money that doesn't happen. Is there A fund somewhere where people like can contribute?

    June 8, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Reread the story and you'll find your answer.

      June 8, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SRSwain

    Well done, young lady! Don't miss the glass flower collection at the Peabody Museum, and the art at the Gardner. Bean Town has almost to offer as Chapel Hill:)


    June 8, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Michael

    Well done!

    June 8, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Report abuse |
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