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. Sam

    I wish her the very, very best! This is America! I wish all the people in my office who complain all the time can read this and for all those who complain about not getting what they want in life read this. I wish all our daily news channels would be nothing but stories like this. This world would be a fantastic spot to live in. You Go Girl!

    June 8, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Charles

    I remember hardships in my life and I overcame....Like this young lady whom I congratulate, she overcame because she put her mind to it and she did it. She is a shining hope America, we need to work like her and overcome. Best to you Dawn Loggins, you are a shining star and God bless!

    June 8, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  3. unowhoitsme

    Her mom has quite the nerve to skow up at her graduation.

    June 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Diane

    I hope she runs for president of the USA someday. I'm just sad that I'll be gone by the time she's old enough and won't get to vote for her.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. lkba

    Sadly, this story isn't rare. I had a student abandoned by her father as soon as she turned 18. She never knew where she would be from week to week because she had to constantly beg a place to stay from relatives she barely knew and who didn't really want her. Another teacher would pick her up every morning for school, and I would take her "home". The school counselor found resources to help her. She graduated near the top of her class and got a full scholarship to a local college. The counselor told me every year we have students like her who have been abandoned.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Monica

    Am so proud of her. I wish I could meet her personally to congratulate her.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lauren Clark

    This is such a great story. Congratulations, Dawn.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ed Sr of Dallas Tx

    Thank God....there are still great people who want to succeed and who show it! God bless you, Dawn, go and do it because you CAN!

    June 8, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
  9. McIver3

    Dawn – you have true grit and the American pioneer can-do spirit! You and your brother Shane will go as far as you both want in life. Put the money from donations in a savings account because Harvard and living expenses are high. Besides, I'm sure you will want to go on to get a Ph.d. You can be anything you want to be in life!!

    June 8, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pinebelt Bob

    Three cheers for you, Ashley Dawn Loggins! Take Harvard and your life by storm!

    June 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Cupcake

    Very impressive story..........go Dawn! Happy for you and proud of you!

    June 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. prasannatech

    Great work Dawn, I am sure you will scale greater heights in your career as well as in your mission to help other homeless people, thanks CNN for bringing her story to light, this is the kind of inspiration and morale booster everyone who wants to accomplish needs.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. morris2196

    There were three keys to her success: (1) she was willing to humble herself by taking a low-status job, and (2) she received encouragement and help. By help I mean that an adult school custodian took her into her home when she was homeless. (3) Raw intelligence.

    June 8, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. WhitfieldL

    CONGRATULATIONS my dear.. America & the entire world is so proud of you.. I have been following your story.. You are an inspiration to all kids out there... I want my son to read your story... It would open his eyes... He is spoiled. Stay blessed young lady... and a big thank you to all the people out there who have helped you along the the way. You are a good kid.. you still love your parents even though they had their faults. I admire you. HARVARD... HERE SHE COMES.. Go Girl...

    June 8, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • rw

      That's the problem with parenting today, instead of talking to your son like a normal parent, you judge your kid by comparing him to another, how about talking to him? Maybe kids just want to be LISTENED TO!

      June 9, 2012 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
  15. Daisy

    Ms. Dawn, you are going to succeed, hopefully four or five years from now we will see you or hear you again graduating from Harvard with whatever degree you are going to pursue. Stick to your goal and my constant prayers to you and your brother.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
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