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. ahatcher

    Wow. Reading the comments above, I realize how many bitter people are in the world. It's an uplifting story. Why not just go with it?

    June 9, 2012 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  2. Debbie

    I don't buy it....how was she homeless, yet her family was in attendance?

    June 9, 2012 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Her parents abandoned her but came back to see her graduate. Her local community has taken care of her since her parents abandoned her. A close comparision would be the movie "The Blind Side"...

      June 9, 2012 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Steven Paine

      read the original story, they left to work on their drug problems and thought it was best to leave her behind

      June 9, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      @ Debbie, don't you people read???? Her family who attended were not her Mom and Dad, HELLO!! PLEASE read the original article before posting such as inine comments..!!!!! Her mother and father were drug addicts and they left her. One day, this extremely intelligent person went home, and her parents had vacated her home. She lived for a year on her friend's couches and even on their floor. SHE IS MY HEROINE!

      June 9, 2012 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Cris725

      If you go back and read the previous stories on her, which are EVERY WHERE, you'll get the explanation. Her parent's left her behind one day and moved to another state without any warning at all. No explanation. So she was just living on the streets until she talked to a guidance counselor. She finally got in touch with her family but she knew her parent's couldn't take care of them. She forgave them. She has class. You probably don't.

      June 9, 2012 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      Maybe if you took the time to read the story and back story before opening your mouth and looking stupid you'd know what was going on.

      June 9, 2012 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Juan

      Hi Debbie – They had a story yesterday with more background. Her parents moved south one day while she and her brother were at school. That was a few years ago. She just recently got in contact with them.

      June 9, 2012 at 2:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael J.

      What do you care, you pathetic moron?

      June 9, 2012 at 3:27 am | Report abuse |
  3. T

    Hey sour-Puckles...keep your mean spirit to yourself! The world have enough morons like you. Time to cheer on good people!...way to go Dawn!!

    June 9, 2012 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. Even if it is a publicity stunt

    Even if it is a publicity stunt the point is that its a nice story and can inspire people in similar situations, maybe not to get into Harvard but to at least attempt to create a better life for themselves.

    June 9, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      @"Even if it is a publicity stunt", what would the publicity be? What would it be for? Do you have any idea how UN intelligent you sound just for saying that???? Yes, we all know YOU will never go to Harvard!!!!

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

      This is no publicity stunt. Dawn actually did it.

      June 9, 2012 at 6:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. Rhonda

    @ Sarah thank you! I can't wait to see how she turns out also! Harvard??? Do you know how many presidents went to Harvard????? Dawn for President!!! (one day!) Don't you know that she will be down with every poor person in America! And yet she will know that it is not cool to be dependent on the government if you are healthy and sane!!!!!!!!

    June 9, 2012 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Isaac Stone

      I may be wrong... mainly because I did NOT google this before I answered it... But I believe seven presidents went to Harvard.

      June 10, 2012 at 12:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. Fred Riek

    It is amazing how much this bright young woman has achieved so far. I am sure she will be very successful in whatever she chooses. It is also amazing the number of dolts in this Country evidenced by some of the rediculous negative comments. Too bad they did not get much from whatever schooling they had.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
  7. Common Sense

    Clearly, the people calling her story a fake just because her family showed up to the graduation, have never been around drug addicts. I believe her story 100%, and she is a true inspiration. She just proved that there is no excuse

    June 9, 2012 at 1:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      @Common Sense, Thank You!!!!

      June 9, 2012 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
    • maxistential

      @Common Sense:

      You're absolutely right. Drug abusers will show up and fall off the face of the earth with a moment's notice, or none at all. This is her day. Commentating should focus as such. Slagging down her parents when instead we should be acknowledging her triumphs.

      June 9, 2012 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
  8. J. Curtis Rice

    I live in the neighboring county to this young lady and the CNN articles only touch on the whole story. Those of us who live close by understand all that she has gone through. It's a shame that there are those who think it's a publicity stunt or whatever. But as usual when someone accomplishes greatness against tremendous odd, there will always be jealous and bitter haters. It's their way of making them feel better about themselves – about attempt make themselves better by tearing others down.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Rhonda

      Thank you, J. Curtis Rice! You hit the nail on the head!

      June 9, 2012 at 1:54 am | Report abuse |
    • ArdDruid

      Amen Brother

      June 9, 2012 at 4:12 am | Report abuse |
    • ArdDruid

      Mr. Rice thank you for the info it is nice to hear about the bigger picture.

      June 9, 2012 at 4:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Lillian

      I'm so confused to read these comments about people calling this a hoax. I guess I must be naive...it never occurred to me that this was a publicity stunt or fake.

      June 9, 2012 at 5:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob Ramos

      Curtis....You did a very good thing with your posting. We have to accept that there will always be sick puppies who try to tear down what wonderful folks like Dawn accomplish.

      June 9, 2012 at 6:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. zaq1

    I totally agree with you. Dawn's story is a perfect example of "karma". She stayed focused, worked hard and didn't get distracted. For all the hard work and right choices she took, society supported her and became her family. To all the critics, do you think the society would have stood by her if she had chosen the wrong path by following her parents?

    June 9, 2012 at 1:50 am | Report abuse |
  10. RF Burns

    She applied herself and has succeeded. I wish her the very best in her future.

    June 9, 2012 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. Rhonda

    This story is NOT about race! And anyone who brings race into THIS story IS A RAC IST!!!!!

    June 9, 2012 at 1:56 am | Report abuse |
  12. Rhonda

    Ashley Dawn Loggins for President!!! (After you graduate) !!! lol

    June 9, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jilly

    You all have it wrong....she lived with her dad and step mom....who left her. They were drug addicts abnd in and out of jail. Not sure what the deal was with her biological mom, but she did live on peoples couches until one day a teacher approached another teacher who lived alone and asked if she could help the girl out. She took her in and encouraged her to apply to Harvard.........you have to give her credit....very determined to make something for herself

    June 9, 2012 at 2:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. Dude

    The girl should be going to a state school. Ivy league schools are going downhill with all this diversity garbage. Ivy league was created for WASPs- who had positions of leadership in the world. Now look at our political system and stock market. Chaos.

    June 9, 2012 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. Chris

    wow, that line about "being a cashier at wal-mart" is pretty bad. Civilization wouldn't function well if we did not have everyone doing their part by being part of the working force, no matter how small and petty you find the job.

    June 9, 2012 at 2:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Colin

      You are basically advocating wage slavery. That isn't a made-up concept- if you are living paycheck to paycheck, working full time and have slim to no chance of advancing and don't make enough to go to school, like Walmart cashiers, you are a wage slave. You can either be homeless or be mistreated and underpaid at a job for a corporation that posts billions in profits every year. You can go to school, if you take out a loan and enter into a debt trap set by banks and lenders. You are being forced to do labor with no reward except being "allowed" to live, and just barely. If you think the job should be done, though, feel free to do it, since for some reason we as individuals owe the rest of society our time as Walmart cashiers.

      On another note, I am happy for Dawn, but she is the rare exception, not the rule. She had a huge support web in her school to help her, many teens do not.

      June 9, 2012 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Don

      Wage-slavery = made up concept used by the economically illiterate. Go read Mises and Rothbard.

      June 9, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Paul232

      But you are a slave to yourself, and can free yourself thru education. Real slaves are stuck there despite their efforts.

      June 10, 2012 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Chut Pata

      Only one out of tens of thousands of talented ones are able to break free from the cycle. These few are used to justify the inequality of the society, that those who are poor are the lazy bums, to quote father of trickle down effect Ronald Reagan

      June 10, 2012 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Solo

      Over 75% of those working at WalMart (which means everyone except for upper level managers or executives) are collecting some form of public assistance and most use jobs like this to fulfill the "20 hour" requirement. So, let's not break out the Kleenex just yet – our taxes are abused by the so-called underpaid worker.

      June 9, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Flamespeak

      "Over 75% working at wal-mart are collecting some form of public assistance"

      You got a reliable source for that statistic? Also, the average WalMart employee makes above minimum wage, in doing so they aren't eligible for the vast majority of government as sistance. Doubly true if they are a male and part of the ethinic majority.

      June 10, 2012 at 7:20 am | Report abuse |
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