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. DN3

    I'm so glad her mother, stepfather and family decided to attend the graduation. I'm sure it must have been hard to face all those people but it was the right thing to do. This is a very heart-warming story that is rare in North America but some of my friends reminded me that there are millions of people in developing/third-world countries who are abandoned as children but somehow manage to perservere and achieve excellence. I didn't know until recently that one of the past Prime Ministers of India grew up in the slums.

    But one thing I want to echo is 'The only way out of poverty is through education'. Do all young (or not so young) people living in underprivileged situations hear that???

    June 9, 2012 at 3:04 am | Report abuse |
  2. huxley

    "The only way to get out of poverty is through education."

    June 9, 2012 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
  3. Rhonda

    So, one more thing, Dawn. Please, Please, tell all of your friends, that it's not ok to raise a child on a computer, any more than it is ok to raise a child on drugs. Today's children (including my 5th, who began watching violent TV @ age 3) are just as hooked on violent games and TV, as some are hooked on drugs. Did you know that the head honchos in Silicon Valley are putting their children into schools that have NO computers?!!! In order for them to be raised normally. So that they will learn early to make eye contact, and learn people skills.!!!! It needs to be learned early! In my opinion, wait as long as you can to put your child on line!!

    June 9, 2012 at 4:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. Liquidcobra

    The only group of people that say it has nothing to do with race are the EXACT same people who've benefited from it in this country either directly or indirectly. You have to be really pathetic to fail in this country if you're white with all the advantages given to your by your race.

    June 9, 2012 at 4:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. huuff

    she should write a book to explain how she made it all happen. anyway, it's a beautiful story.

    June 9, 2012 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      All she has to do is explain how people gave her money, then called the media.

      June 9, 2012 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. Bob Ramos

    One day she will have and raise great kids. It is in the genes.

    June 9, 2012 at 6:17 am | Report abuse |
  7. works4me

    This is the very type of youth America needs more. Driven, intellectual curiosity, gracious and humble. Perhaps the lack of availability to video games and Facebook proved worthwhile. You go girl! America's proud of you!

    June 9, 2012 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. SusanBarwick

    What a testament to the will and desire of one's heart. It had come down to her parents do not have the love they should for he rand she had to face..." but what am I doing to do about it". It came down to her choices, and she chose wisely against all odds. There are many kids out that there who have to make this choice everyday and to all those unnamed children, keep moving forward and do as Dawn suggested...find someone who will be there for you and give you encouragement and support. You will find that person if you seek.

    June 9, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  9. life101

    CONGRATULATIONS young lady, your achievements awesome! Paying it forward is the true testament of your character, Harvard is lucky to have you as a student!

    June 9, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. Carann

    Wonderful story....I applaud this young woman. She pulled herself up and worked her way out of bad situation instead of resorting to public assistance. As a former educator, I know the only way out of poverty is indeed education. Too many young people today are given a free ride and throw it away. When someone such as this young woman choses to make the best of a bad situation and turn it around, she should be rewarded. Instead of dishing out grants and scholarships to students based on race, who in many instances throw them away and not take full advantage of them, I think colleges and government programs should focus solely on academic achievement–the true test of worthiness. And this young woman is.

    June 9, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. skeptico

    ya.. place her right next to that neagero, who seems to be the only one in crowd..
    what are authorities trying to convey to us?

    June 9, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • dml

      If I remember high school graduations correctly, they usually seat them alphabetically so when they go up on stag to get their diploma's, it is by last name. Might just be sometihng as simple as his last name comes right after hers.........YA THINK!!!!!!!

      June 9, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Eddy the anchor child

      Its people like you that make me lose hope for humanity, is that the one thing that came to mind after reading such a positive story? Man you are pathetic, actually feel sorry for you; I think the real problem is you never had the motivation to graduate anything aside from stupidity...

      June 9, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Ruth E.

      It's probably alphabetical, idiot. Didn't you ever graduate from anything yourself?

      June 9, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Duh

      Well now at least he's graduating. 🙂

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

      Yes she is sitting next to a handsome young black man that someday just might save your life as a doctor. Stop the hate! Save your time on something more positive for yourself.

      June 9, 2012 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
    • rvh

      How pathetic do you need to be to turn an amazing story into an opportunity to show us what a scourge people like you are?

      June 9, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Katherine

      The authorities are probably trying to convey nothing, at all. What are you trying to convey to us? If you're trying to convey your sick and twisted thought process, you've done an excellent job!

      June 9, 2012 at 10:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Andi Young

      Ah! Yes the race card pulled yet again.

      June 9, 2012 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  12. JB

    What an amazing and inspirational story! Extremely happy for this young lady who has the heart and the will to succeed and refuses to give up. All the best to her.

    June 9, 2012 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  13. Matt

    I am inspired by the courage of this young lady.

    June 9, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. Bill Anderson

    Acquiring a degree to escape homelessness is a great story that makes us all feel good about this country. Another story you will not read about is how the FBI can take someone with a Masters degree and make them homeless. That story can only be found with a search for "New police weapon against homeless" and also "Historic coverup of FBi and police crimes currently taking place". Bill Anderson Middletown CT soxin8@hotmail.com

    June 9, 2012 at 9:14 am | Report abuse |
  15. Ba

    Congrats!!

    June 9, 2012 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
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