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. Peruna

    I hope for her sake she abandon's her parents. Those drug addict losers only showed up to pretend they care and get free food She will be successful in life and they will leach on her and drag her down. She needs to say to them: "You abandoned me, not once or twice but repeatedly throughout my life, you are now dead to me, never contact me again."

    June 9, 2012 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • larvadog

      I would hope that she employs compassion and love and instead forgives her parents. That would make for a much better world if everyone did that.

      June 9, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. Dr. B

    As a college professor, I would love to have a classroom full of young people like this girl. She will take her studies seriously and do something productive with her life, without expecting the rules to bend for her.

    June 9, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  3. T BELL

    I would like to read and hear more stories like this.....the human spirit. This young lady is going to accomplish alot and I hope people take note. She did this out of will and determination instead of blaming others, the system ad nauseum. COURAGE-CONVICTION-DETERMINATION. It's people like her that makes us the best...we need more of her. CONGRATULATIONS DAWN!!!!

    June 9, 2012 at 9:51 am | Report abuse |
  4. Wes B

    Wonderful story and so impressed with her ability to stick to high school, pick herself up and stay the course. I know it had to have been hard. She obviously has a strong character and her dedication and focus will serve her well. Making sure my daughters read this as another example of not letting a bad situation control you. Thank you Dawn! Can't wait to hear of the great things you will do in life!

    June 9, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  5. Nellie

    My little brother goes to Stanford and my parents make less than 60K a year. If Harvard is anything like Stanford, pretty much EVERYTHING will be paid for by scholarships and grants. He even has an on campus job making $16/hr (due to the high minimum wage in the Silicon Valley). He interned in Washington, DC last quarter, so he couldn't work. The school instead awarded him an additional scholarship to cover any out of pocket living expenses.

    June 9, 2012 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  6. rvh

    Her high school and its staff need to be recognized for their kindness and for their willingness to take ownership of her situation. She must clearly be an extraordinary individual. Too many hard working kids slip through the cracks and it is wonderful to hear that this one lifted herself with their help.

    June 9, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  7. Em

    Congratulations Dawn! God Bless the teachers and staff at Burns High School. I grew up in a very poor family who had me working for their mortgage at the age of 10- from selling flowers on the streets of LA to sewing for the fashion industry. I knew what it was to be hungry for an education when i graduated from middle school and was told i needed to work from then on. I went to night school for the high school diploma. I then worked to pay for college and I was 28 yrs old when i achieved my RN degree. I love helping people all the time, every time i can. I anticipate you will do many great things! More power to you!

    June 9, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. christy

    Congratulations on your hard work!! A fantastic story of overcoming the odds and coming out clean on the other side. For people commenting on the person sitting next to in the photo- take a good long look at yourself in the mirror as your comments say much more about you than him. Nice work Dawn!!!!

    June 9, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mayra Nunez

    God bless you today en tomorrow in every step you will make salms31 ;7

    June 9, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Aruna


      June 9, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
    • The Flamingo Kid

      That's "Psalms" NOT "salms." If you are going to quote the BIble then learn how to spell the names of the books.

      June 9, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • ginalove40

      @The Flamingo Kid: You have contributed nothing by pointng out a typo. Really, is that the only comment you can come up with after reading the article??

      Anyway, congratulations to you, Ms. Dawn!!

      June 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Peregrine

    Her high school, teachers, guidance counselors, co-workers must have been wonderful. As well as the other students who didn't bully or ostracize her because of her situation.

    June 9, 2012 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • jill

      Sounds like a typical self righteous bible freak.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Will

    So pretty

    June 9, 2012 at 10:52 am | Report abuse |
  12. Katherine

    Congratulations Dawn!!! We're rooting for you!!

    June 9, 2012 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  13. Sad

    Its sad that Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League dont accept students who are just as qualified as this young woman because they have two supporting parents instead of dead-beats. I actually saw a refusal letter that indicated a young friend of mine was rejected because they didnt get 'points' for coming from a broken home. These schools only want hard luck cases so they can tout these cases so they look good. Yes, this young woman made it through Harvard and clearly will succeed in just about anything she does in life, but not everyone who is worthy is given that same chance.

    June 9, 2012 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • SAMANTHA65

      Harvard likes money people, they are one of the richest colleges in the USA. When they "help", it is for those in the more dire situation. This young woman carried a 4 point grade average, worked, did community service and made herself rise above very poor circusmstances with help from her community. When someone has a home & two parents it is different than someone who doesn't. If a person has the good marks, does community service, works etc, Harvard will take them as seriously as this young woma. But, the family may have to pay at least partial tuition. There are scholarships available that students apply for....the student just has to earn them and apply for them!

      June 9, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Rosie

      Well apparently this teen has had a rough life growing up with parents who were not able to parent her. Even more challenging is the fact that they abandoned her and she still decided to succeed. She worked a job just to maintain herself and finish school. Clearly she had the academic brains - All things being equal, I too would have given this high school graduate extra points for admission into Harvard. Perhaps we could just be happy for this gal!?

      June 9, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      I think it's rather you sad you see the world in such a negative light. Why not just be happy for her irregardless of your almighty opinion?

      June 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • ginalove40

      @Sad – The young lady has made it"to" Harvard, not yet "through" it. But, I do agree with your assessment regarding the non-academic criteria that Ivy League schools like Harvard tend to consider. Sad, indeed. Though, I am bery proud of Ms. Dawn, as her own personal efforts and strong ambition are the utmost contributing factors to her success thus far.

      June 9, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jb

    A great lesson for us all. Thanks, Dawn!

    June 9, 2012 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  15. Vince

    I'm sending some money to her fund. I love this gal. She's a future leader in the making.

    June 9, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
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