Homeless teen inspires as high school valedictorian
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA/CBS) -- One might think that graduation day at Southeast D.C.'s Anacostia High School is like any other high school graduation. It is not.
At Anacostia High, D.C. police officers have to escort students home at the end of each day, protecting them against neighborhood gang violence.
The ones who make it to graduation defy many odds.
Wednesday, they crossed the stage, having earned their diplomas.
"I feel I did it. I finally got the diploma in my hands," said Rashema Melson, whose story might be the most improbable of all.
Melson's father was killed when she was seven-months-old. She spent her childhood bouncing around the District with her mother and two brothers, home to home, apartment to apartment.
The four of them have spent the last two years living in a single room at the D.C. General Homeless Shelter.
Despite all that, Melson graduated as her class valedictorian.
"That's an every month thing -- another challenge, another battle, another obstacle in your way and then you go right through it. That's the only way through the storm, you go right through it," said Melson, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA.
But she admits - considering family hardships, rough neighborhoods and trying to do homework in a homeless shelter - there were plenty of moments of doubt.
"I started to give up but then I saw signs that God was not putting me through this to punish me but to show others how to be resilient and persistent in the goals of life," Melson told her fellow graduates and families during her valedictory address at the graduation ceremony Wednesday at Howard University.
During the speech she thanked her family and a list of teachers, counselors, administrators and coaches from Anacostia High School.
"As usual, Anacostia is always there. They're really my second family," said Melson.
"Throughout my journey here I've learned that time does not wait, pity or adjust for or to anyone and life is not fair. Life is not fair," continued Melson.
It may not be fair, but his homeless high schooler has made the most of it. She will finally have a permanant home at Georgetown University, having earned a full scholarship.
But she insisted that she is just getting started.
"It's just one step forward. It's not over yet," said Melson.
Melson said she plans on going to medical school and ultimately wants to become a forensic pathologist.
Before Melson gave her valedictory address, economist Julianne Malveaux gave the graduation commencement speech where she said, "Too many of us decide that, based on our surroundings, we can and cannot do."
But if Rashema Melson and her fellow graduates prove anything it's that improbable does not make something impossible.
To help fund expenses not covered by Melson's scholarship, click here.
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