He thought his best days were behind him, but as it turns out — they're just ahead.
The odds were stacked against Liyjon DeSilva, a 20-year-old homeless Texas student whose mother passed away when he was just five years old. Yet, against all odds, he graduated at the top of his class.
DeSilva's mother served as an inspiration to him, being the first person in his family to attend college.
After his mother's death he would be passed around family members, staying with relatives when possible, until he was abandoned by his family and found himself all alone. For three years as a teenager, DeSilva managed on his own.
"I wanted clothes. I wanted to be able to live like a normal kid, you know," he told Houston-area KTRK-TV. "I wanted to eat like a normal kid. I slept at parks."
For most, the situation would be a nightmare. At times, it probably was just that for DeSilva, yet he seemed to be able to find an inner strength not to give up.
"What else am I supposed to do?" Desilva asked. "It was either that or be a low-life. I could have thrown everything away. I have a chance, why not keep going?"
DeSilva, hiding the fact that he was homeless, attended Margaret Long Wisdom High School, formerly Lee High School, in Houston, Texas.
"Coming to school was a huge problem. Being homeless, being a minor and not having any parents. Trying to fight for myself and basically be my own family and keep going without letting anything stop me," said DeSilva in a video posted by The Posse Foundation, which helped him get a full scholarship to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
"I felt like I was dying but I was preparing for something greater."
Things finally started to look up for DeSilva when he came across someone who wanted to help — his high school principal.
When Principal Jonathan N. Trinh found out that DeSilva was sleeping in parks, he reached into his own pocket and paid for 30-day stay at a nearby Extended Stay hotel to buy time for the community workers to find a home for the talented but homeless student. Trinh said that in his 23-year career, DeSilva stood out as naturally gifted and among the top 5 percent of students.
Trinh, along with Jessica Smith, who was working for the "Communities in Schools" charity, stepped in to help. Before long, Smith found a place for DeSilva to live. She recalled that within five minutes of her posting on her Facebook page about DeSilva, someone responded and said that the teen could stay in the person's garage apartment rent-free.
"He calls me his mother figure," Smith said, as reported by KTRK-TV. "Liyjon has some very special inner resources that make him really driven and strong."
She also talked in The Posse Foundation video about the meaning of family: "Your family in life isn't the people necessarily who you have blood ties to. Your friends become your family. Your community becomes your family. You can choose your family, you can make a family."
With the help of his new family, DeSilva graduated at the end of May among the top of his class, with a 3.67 grade point average and had one of the highest SAT score in his class.
Recalling his graduation ceremony, DeSilva said, "Mr. Trinh was there and I didn't let him down. And I just thought about how much he helped me, and I was like, another father figure."
Jaqueta Dunn, a teacher at Lee High School, said, "It's unusual to meet a kid who has so many challenges but still continues to push forward and not allow the things around him to stop him."
DeSilva concluded, "I had no family. I was homeless. I went through child abuse. I went through family using drug abuse. I went through some of the worst places to live. I was sent to Africa because my father didn't want me. Where am I now? I'm alive and well and blessed. I feel on top of the world right now."
Most of the costs for college are covered for DeSilva, but now some of his friends are raising additional money to pay for a few other needs, like a computer, through a crowdsourcing site.