TODAY | June 11, 2012
>>> 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