Dawn Loggins was abandoned by her drug-abusing parents and left homeless at age 15, and had no choice but to clean the floor of her North Carolina high school to make a living. But days before she graduated from the school last week, she received a letter from Harvard University saying she had been accepted.
"I'll work two hours before school. And then I'll go to school. And then I'll come back and work two hours after school," Dawn, who graduated from Burns High School in Cleveland County, N.C., last Thursday, told CBS News.
Dawn, 18, spent years in homes with little or no water and electricity with her drug dealer stepfather and unemployed mother. Her stepdad would often be arrested, and they would have to move from place to place. "Or my mom would use rent money to bail him out of jail," she recalled. "There would be places where we lived where there wouldn't be power and water for extended periods of time."
When Dawn was at middle school, she would visit her grandmother often. But even her home had trash all over. "She never really explained to me like that it was important to shower, it was important to take care of yourself. So I would go months at a time without showering. I would wear the same dress to school for months at a time."
Other students began to call her ugly and would tease boys saying she had a crush on them. She would go home every day and just cry.
Last summer, Dawn's parents moved to Tennessee without her and remained incommunicado. "I could never get in touch with them. Every time I tried calling them, it said, 'This number has been temporarily disconnected,'" she recalled.
The teen moved from couch to couch until a counselor asked a school custodian if she would take Dawn in. Teachers also joined in to help and support her, and she began to excel.
Circumstances couldn't turn Dawn into a pessimist about life. "I looked around at my family and I saw the neglect, the drug abuse, the bad choices and I saw my family living from paycheck to paycheck, and I just made a decision that I was not going to end up like my parents," she told WBTV. "I wasn't going to end up having to decide should I buy food this month or should I pay my rent."
She didn't even turn bitter about her parents. "I just realize that they have their own problems that they need to work through," HLNtv.com quoted her as saying. "They love me; I know they love me. They just don't show it in a way that most people would see as normal."
Dawn wants to return the favor she received from the community to others who might need help. As her inspiring story hit the national headlines, Dawn received some donations, and she intends to use it to support needy students.
What's more, Dawn says she believes in hard work. She will continue to mop and broom at Burns High School through the summer to help pay for college. Harvard will pay for tuition and boarding, but she will need to pay for textbooks, school materials and other expenses.
"All the help in the world isn't going to do you any good if you're not willing to work hard," she told Fox News. "I think people were so willing to help me because they saw that I was reaching for my goals, and I wasn't going to let anything stop me."