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. Noemi Custodio

    Congratulation Dawn Loggins I am proud of you and God will Bless you forever, kep up the good work sweety.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. sgs1965

    Dawn, definitely congrats to you are in order, however I'd like to take a moment and praise God All Mighty for the plans he has for you in your life. He is truly an awesome God!! Praise to you Lord Christ.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Nephthys

    So impressed here! Instead of giving in, this young lady (& her brother) pushed forward. They could have dropped out & turned into drug addicts like their parents. But they chose the hard way instead of the easy way which would have led to self-destruction. I hope her parents can be inspired by their own children & get clean and get their own lives back on track. Kudos to you Dawn! I wish you and your brother all the best. You truly deserve it. Keep knocking those stumbling blocks out of your way!

    June 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Van Lam

    You are such an inspiration, Dawn. You and your brother have been through so much hardships, but continue to keep your heads up and work toward your dreams. What admire me most about you is not what you have achieved, but how you treat your parents after all that, and sounds like there hasn't been once that you and Shane blamed on your folks for putting you two through this. You guys are ANGELS!! As I read your story yesterday, my tears dropped. As I am sitting here "writing to you", my tears are rolling. I feel so happy for you!!! I've bookmarked all your related articles so I can read them from time to time. I've also printed out copies and put them in folders for my kids to read. They need to learn from you. American kids need to learn from you. Every kid in the world need to learn from you. Good luck to you and Shane in college, and for the rest of your lives.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dave

    You go girl. My daughter will be a Junior at Harvard next year when you get there. You story has spread like wildfire there and they are all excited to meet you. You will be welcome with open arms. All the best

    June 8, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      Dear Dawn Loggins : Your story made me cry again, this is the second time I cry over someone made it into "Ivy league", I am not rich, pay check to pay check job gets me no where, but my almost 17 years old daughter got accepted by Princeton University, that was the first time I cried, because all the hard works paid off. my wife and I would like to wish you the best, and see you in winner's circle in 4 years.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      So will my brother. He met her last semester for pre freshman weekend, said she was very nice!

      June 9, 2012 at 12:32 am | Report abuse |
  6. Puckles

    What a joke this story is!!! This is HARDLY inspirational. This girl was given so much assistance it is unreal. What a damn joke. To act as if she achieved so much on her own is just ridiculous. And there sure were a whole lot of family members who were present for the occasion, so she was obviously not without family either. There are so many people who actually matter that they could do a story about.

    June 8, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Troller

      Jealous much? I can help!

      June 9, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
    • serious disturbed

      So it would be inspirational if what? She was 17 and had been unable to find support? What exactly does that look like in highschool? So a student without teachers? A 17 year old without a job? Huh?

      Even kids with everything: such as those that don't have to work, that have supportive and educated parents, who pay for tutors, private school environments, books, extra-curriculars and SAT coaches- can't make it into Harvard. It also requires a tremendous amount of personal work and ability to get high test scores, high grades in university level advance placement courses etc.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • sosume

      And what have you done lately?

      June 9, 2012 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
    • maltytasker

      You should change your username to "Pickles" because you sound like a sourpuss who can't appreciate what this girl achieved through hard work and determination.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • jkflipflop

      Get over it, you'll always be a loser.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Juan H

      You have no heart. And I can bet you're Republican, too.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Ant

      Hmmmm, I guess you need help yourself.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Ernest A. Ager, M.D.

      Shame on you. Give credit where it is due. It's a wonderful story and needs to be told, again and again.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Sergio Flores

      Do you have anything to do with your life other than to be negative? Even with all the support she received, she earned her admission into Harvard. There are kids out there that are swimming in money and have every opportunity to do well in school and get into a school like Harvard. But many choose to not work hard and not earn it. Her achievements are celebrated because of her determination to succeed and willingness to move forward. No amount of support is going to turn a kid into a hard working student. She earned what she has achieved. Stop trying to play it down just because you couldn't get anywhere in life. Seriously, do us all a favor and shut up! Congratulations to this well deserving young lady!!!

      June 9, 2012 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      No one cares about your opinions on anything.

      June 9, 2012 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Arick

      What degree did you graduate with from Harvard?

      June 9, 2012 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Davisra

      Hey Puckles

      Didn't your mom ever teach you "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all". Why don't you crawl back into the hole you crawled out of.

      June 9, 2012 at 4:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Chut Pata

      You have to give credit to this girl, that she did not give up. The problem is that her case is being used to justify the inequality saying the talented ultimately comes up. No it does not. Many straight A students end up not going to college. Being straight A is not enough to get a scholarship to sustain throughout your college.

      June 10, 2012 at 7:56 am | Report abuse |
  7. Marc

    Good for her!

    June 9, 2012 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. rw

    Why do I find it weird that her mother, step-parents, cousin, grandma, are all present...I find something really unusual here...I don't care this isn't motivation or inspiration, this is a publicity stunt, who are looking for the easy way out, Columbia pulled the same fast-one by recently having a graduate who ironically was a janitor, and I think Harvard pulled a knuckleball right at Columbia's face, by saying we can be humane too.

    But how is it NOT weird that the school did not know about her being in this condition? Possible liar? I'm sorry I don't buy your story Ms. Loggins... you leave me with a disgusting feeling that makes me think your just trying to slide through the system, that we call the American Educational System.

    It's also weird that her brother was present, Where was he the whole time in this thing? SOMETHING IS FISHY...

    June 9, 2012 at 12:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      @RW Please Please read the original article...my gosh such ignorance!!!!

      June 9, 2012 at 12:13 am | Report abuse |
    • serious disturbed

      How is it fishy or the easy way out? Harvard provides free tuition and room and board to any students whose family earns under $65,000 a year (regardless of how supportive the parents are).

      Dysfunctional families can and do abandon their kids...then show up to claim the spotlight when their offspring succeed.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
    • sosume

      So sad. There are just some people that juat can't stand the hard work and success of someone else. Instead of being inspired it just further diminishes them.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
  9. Frank C Ewing

    Anyone that has and is going through the kind of life this woman has experienced deserves a break, this kind of one I might add. So what if she is getting a lot of attention, looks like no one was there for her when she didn't get any attention! Perhaps her story of struggle will lift others to do the same or something more creative and positive than they are now. It's wonderful to see a story like this and let's be sure this woman continues to get support, I imagine she'll give a lot back to society over time and she's already given many inspiration to keep going and "shoot for the stars".

    June 9, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
  10. rutro

    Maybe the best thing that could have happened to this young woman is when her parents walked out of her life. Luckily for her she was able to survive on her own and with the help of strangers. God Bless the woman who took her in. Maybe when her mother attended the graduation she met this woman who took her daughter in and realized that giving birth does not always give you the skills you need to be an effective parent.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
  11. Tom

    She's really going to fit in well at Harvard with the trust-fund crowd.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Martina

      Nope. That'll be hard. Speaking from experience.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  12. is she jewish or something?

    is she jewish or something? lots of kids are homeless that never get chances. or not homeless and never get chances. schools knock tehm out on purpose. mostly to please professional orgs protecting their own wages. for some reason she got a pass. we get a bill. and were no better off.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      @Is she jewish or something? NO! READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE to find out that she grew up with no electricity and no RUNNING WATER. Do you know what that entails???????? NO!!!!!

      June 9, 2012 at 12:15 am | Report abuse |
  13. AnnieR.

    Congratulations, Dawn....its doesn't matter if you received any help – it was your brains, work ethic and studies that got you accepted to Harvard. Some of the negative comments on this board are pathetic....Good luck!!....

    June 9, 2012 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
  14. Steve

    I hope you get everything out of life that you want. Don't stop moving forward. You are the type of person that should be president of the united states!

    June 9, 2012 at 12:19 am | Report abuse |
  15. zzBottom

    Standing-O?

    uh OH ohhh baby, I thought this was something else

    June 9, 2012 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
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