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. sonnycam

    Good to see a non- Asian succeed academically...lol

    June 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • 3mendandablindguy

      Stay classy!

      June 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jlf

    it just goes to show you that if you have the determination and drive you will succeed...also the town deserves a lot of credit for stepping up and helping her realize her dream!!!!

    June 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tim

    What an amazing story. Congratulaitons to this outstanding young lady. It's unforunate that there are millions of teenagers out there that have an easier life than this young lady has had, but don't appreciate a damn bit of it. They still want more hand outs and mom, dad, and the rest of the damn World to wait on them, and here is this young lady abandoned by her family with nothing and she's achieved more in her life right now then those damn spoiled brats will every achieve in their's.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  4. leo

    This story doesn't make sense. Was she really homeless or just abandoned by her parents? Was she living out in the streets or with family members? Then her mom shows up at her graduation and the rest of her family. Mmmhhh!

    June 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Nice Job

    She got accepted to Harvard, she had to be carrying close to a 4.0. Her parents being druggies was certainly not a hindrance. Her part time job at the school, earned her extra income. I like the cinderella story, but I find it fishy in some ways. No parent would abandon their 4.0 harvard destined child, she had to be like the perfect daughter. These types of stories go viral for some reason, and i am not sure who pushed the buttons on this one. Sorry but I am always skeptical when news stories are forced down my throat. This is certainly not the only child with a rough senior year who made it to an ivy league school.

    Again though nice job, you will do well.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • trublue007

      There are thousands out there like her who are just plain talented. My nephew breezed thru undergrad as Genetics major, worked for the government for several months, quit and became a bum, After a year, decided to take his masters in BA and became a bum for a another year. Now, he is a dentist coz his younger is well of as dentist. That's pure talent.

      June 8, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dennis H.

    I don't know about worse, but I slept in a hotel heating exhaust vent in the winter because of an abusive step-father. She will do fine. She's already been shown that black place where you decide it's you doing it or you die. I agree the 'parents' and other hangers-on should've been booed out of the building. Freaking leaches...

    June 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ian

    I am very proud of this young lady and I wish her nothing but the best in life!

    June 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jerry

    I do not see any color on this at all. All I see is pure determination to succeed.... hard work always pay good at the end.
    With all the hard challenges she faced, still was ablt to focus on her dream and future life. Also her attitude to Play Forward is amazing. May God bless her througout her endeavor.

    June 8, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Andi

    It is truly amazing that she is taking money donated to help her take care of her own needs and donating it to others, and then she is working as a janitor to pay for her own needs while most upcoming Harvard students have limited or no need to work. This young woman understands that there are people with no way to help themselves. She's got perspective. If all Harvard students could gain that perspective, it would be a great thing for our country. She is a worthy role model.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. the runt royal !

    She conquered the momentum of despair and turned it into hope . Mercy is what she needed at her lowest peak compassion what she has when she got to the mountain top . I believe in America !

    June 8, 2012 at 9:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. the runt royal !

    When life gives me a lemon I am going to read this article again to be inspired

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

    Give us the fund's name that will help with this girl's college expenses. My checkbook is open.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • 3mendandablindguy

      It's in the story.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Steven Wallace

    She deserves every success in life, and I believe she will accomplish anything she truly wants.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kay

    What was the mother doing there? If I were this girl I wouldn't want that hypocrite in the same building with me. This is the same addict who dumped her and left her to fend for herself. Now she comes around to get some of the applause and attention? But more likely to beg her daughter for drug money. At least the father had the decency not to show up.

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

      This young lady is an example of grace and forgiveness. You need to read the earlier story that details all that she has been through. If more of us were like her when it came to dealing with others this world would be a much better place for everyone.

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

      She will thank her mom for doing that in the past to her. Without it(her mom's abandoning her and taking off secretly to Tennessee) she may not be where she is today. Remember yesterday's story that she stated she still loved her Mom as much. Got it ?

      June 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • RMD

      It is called forgiveness.

      June 8, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. David J

    She is lovely ! ! !

    June 8, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Report abuse |
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