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Video: Abandoned by her parents, she finds home at Harvard

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    >>> back now at 8:38 with the story of a young woman who faced a mountain of obstacles on her road to harvard . michelle franzen has her incredible journey. michelle, good morning.

    >> good morning. she's inspired others to rally to her cause. she grew up living in place to place, living in poverty, an unstable home life that continued until her parents abandoned her last summer just as she was starting her last year of high school . circumstances that only motivated the north carolina teen to stop at nothing to get her diploma and look toward a future in the ivy league . at age 18, she is wise beyond her years.

    >> i feel like i've had to grow up fast, but i don't really feel like it's been a really bad thing.

    >> heading into her senior year at burns high school in lawnville, north carolina , she was abandoned by her parents and left homeless. for the past year she struggled to find a place to live and worked as a custodian at her high school before and after classes.

    >> i get here about 6:00 and i work from 6:00 to 7:40 when the students start coming in.

    >> in between the straight a honor student worked even harder to graduate.

    >> i felt like it would just be easier if i gave up but it was never in me to give up because i did realize i was never going to be successful unless i got an education.

    >> excelling, her teachers say, in academics, and in the school of hard knocks .

    >> if this is the buffet of knowledge, then this young lady coming to class engorged herself.

    >> her drive paid off. dawn not only graduated this fall, she's heading to harvard university .

    >> i'm delighted to report the admissions committee has asked me to inform you, you'll be admitted to harvard class of 2016 .

    >> her story of success follows years of family turmoil, including numerous evictions, moving, and even studying by candlelight when the electric bill wasn't paid.

    >> my whole life i've been able to look around and see all the bad choices my family has made.

    >> the final straw , dawn says, came last summer after she returned from a prestigious study program offered to the state's brightest students.

    >> when i came home, i discovered my parents had moved. afterwards i discovered they moved to tennessee.

    >> at first dawn crashed at a friend's home. soon an army of supporters rallied to help.

    >> you ready, dawn?

    >> school bus driver opened up her home after receiving a call from dawn's guidance counselor.

    >> i think anyone would have done the same thing. you have a good child in need of a place to stay and who wants to succeed.

    >> dawn's boss, judy barrett, got her the job and early on helped with everything from food to washing dawn's clothes at school.

    >> all we did was kind of just give her the basics she needed. she's done this with her brain and determination. nobody can take credit for that except dawn.

    >> and word spread to carol who helped dawn fill out her college application and eventually encouraged her to apply to harvard .

    >> you should shoot for the stars , dawn, a college like harvard would be interested in you.

    >> harvard campus, this is the science building.

    >> dawn recently toured the ivy league university where she plans to study science.

    >> when you think of the best schools in the nation, i mean, it's not complete unless harvard is on the list. the excite won't set in until i actually get up there.

    >> a story of perceserverence.

    >> shows you what you can do when you put your mind to it.

    >> she's special. she made our high school proud. she made everyone proud. she'll make harvard proud.

    >> by seeing and seizing every opportunity, dawn not only has a place to call home, she is now start agnew journey to find her place in life.

    >> this is the freshman dining hall .

    >> dawn till keeps in touch with family members, including her grandma who dawn credits for giving her a love of reading. the teen says she will work her way through college to cover part of her tuition costs and living expenses. her high school principal also set up a fund in her name. dawn is already thinking of ways to give back. she plans to develop a nonprofit to help kids overcome a similar hardship.

    >> a lot of people will be rooting for her this fall.

    >>> up next, the track star becoming the first arch tee sprinter in the olympics. we'll

TODAY contributor
updated 6/11/2012 10:22:06 AM ET 2012-06-11T14:22:06

Dawn Loggins endured her family being evicted from their home many times. When the electric bill didn’t get paid, she studied by candlelight; when her parents lost their jobs, she subsisted on noodles.

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But that still didn’t prepare the senior at Burns High School in Lawndale, N.C., for the shock of coming home from a prestigious academic program last summer to discover her family had abandoned her. It took her months to learn that her parents and two younger sisters had gone to Tennessee, because she could not reach them; their phone service had been disconnected.

One summer later, Loggins is preparing for her freshman year at Harvard University after a remarkable rise from hardscrabble circumstances to acceptance to the class of 2016 in one of the most prestigious schools in the world.

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Relying on a part-time job as a school custodian and the generosity of others in her community, Loggins persevered to remain a straight-A student. Her reward was becoming the first person from her high school to ever be accepted to Harvard.

‘It was never in me to give up’
“There were times when I felt like it would be easiest if I gave up,’’ the 18-year-old told NBC News. “But it was never in me to give up, because I realized that I was never going to be successful unless I got an education.’’

Loggins worked as a custodian at school from 6 a.m. until the students arrived at 7:40 a.m. every weekday, but she stayed focused on her schoolwork. She would do another two hours of custodial work after school each day and then do the homework for her honors and advanced placement classes until midnight or later on most days. It resulted in a 3.9 grade-point average and a 2,110 on her SAT.

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“If this is the buffet of knowledge, then Dawn is a young lady who has come to class and engorged herself,’’ her U.S. History teacher, Larry Gardner, told NBC News.

After being abandoned by her parents, Loggins initially crashed on couches at friends’ houses until school bus driver Sheryl Kolton, the mother of a friend, opened up her home when she was apprised of Dawn’s situation by her guidance counselor.

“I think that anyone would have done the same thing,’’ an emotional Kolton told NBC News. “You have a good child in need of a place to stay and wants to succeed.’’

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Loggins also received help from her boss at her custodian job, Junie Barrett, who washed Loggins’ clothes at school and helped provide her with some food.

“All we did was just give her the basics she needed, but she’s done this with her brain, with her determination, and nobody can take credit for that except for Dawn,’’ Barrett told NBC News.

Shooting for the stars
Carol Rose, a local mother of three, helped Loggins fill out her college applications and gain the confidence to apply to the top schools in the country after initially applying to only local colleges in North Carolina.

“I said, ‘You should shoot for the stars, Dawn,’’’ Rose told NBC News. “A college like Harvard would be interested in you.’’

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Loggins was able to visit Harvard this spring when the staff at her high school chipped in to come up with the money to fund her trip. She will receive financial aid from Harvard and also plans on getting an on-campus job to pay for her room and board and contribute toward her tuition.

“When you think of the best schools in the nation, it’s not complete unless Harvard’s on the list,’’ Loggins said. “I feel like the excitement won’t set in until I actually get up there.’’

Homelessness and hardship have forced Loggins to grow up much faster than the average teenager, but they also have strengthened her for the journey ahead and shown her the path she wants to avoid. She plans on majoring in biology at Harvard, and still remains close with her parents and sisters despite the abandonment.

Video: Abandoned by her parents, she finds home at Harvard (on this page)

“I do feel like I’ve had to grow up fast, but I don’t really feel like it’s been a really bad thing,’’ Loggins said. “My whole life I’ve been able to look around and see all the bad choices my family has made.’’

In the process, Loggins has shown the faculty at Burns High School that students can return the favor and impart lessons on the adults.

“We’ve got 60 educated adults in this building, and she’s still an inspiration to us because she’s able to show us what kids can do when they put their mind to it,’’ said school principal Dr. Aaron Allen.

“She’s made Burns High School proud, (and) she has made everyone proud,’’ Barrett said. “She is going to make Harvard proud.’’

Principal Dr. Aaron Allen has set up a special fund for Dawn Loggins. Anyone wanting to donate can send checks to Burns High School/Dawn Loggins Fund, 307 East Stagecoach Trail, Lawndale, NC 28090; please make checks payable to "Burns High School/Dawn Loggins Fund."

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