TODAY   |  May 27, 2013

Formerly homeless teen is high school valedictorian

“I just decided to stay positive,” said Chelsea Fears, a teen who spent part of her childhood homeless and still graduated from high school as valedictorian. She speaks with TODAY’s Natalie Morales and Willie Geist.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> on this monday morning, may 27th , 2013 . it is, of course, memorial day . we've got a great holiday crowd joining us on the plaza. it doesn't hurt that it's an absolutely beautiful day here in new york city . inside studio 1a , i'm willie geist along with natalie morales . i know you didn't see the liberace movie, but everybody's talking about it.

>> i'm seeing the likeness of michael douglas to liberace . unbelievable, the transformation.

>> it's called "behind the cand candelabra."

>> i have a great idea. why don't you come work for me? i need a companion, a bodyguard, someone i can talk to. say yes.

>> this is a steven soderbergh movie. michael douglas plays the part of liberace . it's based on a five-year love affair thorson had when he was 18 with liberace . liberace generally such a fascinating american story and american character.

>> truly was. and i still can't get overseeing michael douglas . and when you see, you know, liberace as he was at that age, it's pretty identical spot on. and the performance, i'm being told, it's on my dvr at home, but i'm being told it's pretty amazing. rob lowe had a cameo as well.

>> and a lot of the attention it's gotten is because there are some pretty racy sex scenes .

>> i was going to say.

>> michael douglas and matt damon most.

>> very difficult role for both of them to play, i would imagine. i bet this is going to have a lot of buzz when we get towards the golden globes season.

>> absolutely. by all accounts, a great job.

>>> our take two. this is a question we're going to ask ourselves, are we getting dumber? we don't just mean the two of us.

>> who are you talking about?

>> we mean the broader term, "we." technology is getting smarter, but there's a study what many of us suspected, that we're getting dumber because of all the technology we have at our fingertips, we're losing i.q. points. measure it out from mid- 19th century to the turn of the century .

>> we've lost 12 to 15 points per decade?

>> per decade, every step along the way. we were just talking about this backstage. it's absolutely true because you really don't need the number. i know about two phone numbers right now. so i don't have to memorize it. if i want a piece of information, i don't have to dig too deep in my brain because google will tell me.

>> true. when was the last time you pulled out physically a map and had to go from point "a" to point "b."

>> how wired we are and we have this generation of -- new generation of kids basically try to get point "a" to point "b" using a map. they're, like, i don't know what to do with this. they had no clue.

>> right.

>> and i think that's really an indication of how far technology is taking us, but also to our own detriment.

>> yeah. it's a measure, too, whenever cell service goes out, people go into a panic. they're, like, running through the streets.

>> what am i going to do?

>> how can i access e-mail or information? another funny one to think about is the advent of cell phones . let's call it late '90s. how did we meet up with our friends before that? i have no idea how i saw any of my friends before cell phones . did we just get together in a room and say friday night, we'll hopefully see each other here?

>> i guess you had to have a plan, a real plan , whereas nowadays, it's like whenever, we'll meet up whenever. the other thing is, too, like math. when is the last time you really did an equation and solved something without the help of your calculator on your cell phone or even figured out what to tip the waiter or waitress?

>> yeah.

>> i think a lot of people are using their phones more and more. i think your brain is losing sort of the wiring.

>> it is.

>> that you were used to solving things in your head. now i think a lot of us are used to using the technology, unfortunately, at our disposal.

>> it's the rise of the machines , natalie. they're lulling us to sleep so they can take over soon.

>>> our take three. we want to take a turn and tell you about a great story we wanted to bring you on this memorial day . let's introduce chelisa fierce, graduated from charles drew high school in georgia on saturday.

>> here's someone who's proving she has gotten smarter while the rest of us have gotten dumber.

>> she's a valedictorian, a gpa i've never heard of, 4.466.

>> it's a 4.529 now.

>> well, forgive me. wow! i lowballed you on the gpa. she's about to enter spelman college as a junior because she took that many classes and is that smart. all this despite the fact that the 17-year-old spent most of her high school years homeless. congratulations, first of all.

>> thank you.

>> so everything. we're so inspired by your story. we wanted to have you come in and tell us. your back story a little bit. how long were you homeless, and how did you manage to get these grades, living in the places you had to live?

>> well, it actually started when i was in sixth grade. that was the first time i moved into a shelter. i just decided to stay positive . my mom taught me at a very young age. she played an important role in my development. reading, studying, not getting any trouble. that's how i maintained my grades.

>> i know you're one of five. your sister is also, i understand, very smart.

>> yes.

>> and in college as well.

>> she's here. she's a salutatorian.

>> which is amazing, one and two. your mother must be so proud of you.

>> yes, ma'am.

>> what did she teach you? you said she taught you how to read at an early age. what did she teach you to make you want to do more with your lives?

>> hard work. because she had -- well, she had gotten diagnosed with cancer. it made me want to work harder. she taught me to persevere through anything. and to do what you have to do. don't give in to peer pressure because i think a lot of teenagteenag teenagers do that.

>> what are you going to be studying?

>> chemistry and philosophy. you're entering as a junior?

>> yes, sir.

>> you had a lot of college courses already in high school , i imagine.

>> yes, ma'am.

>> what kind of studying did you have to do some i know you talked about being in homeless shelters with a flashlight on your book. how do you stay that dedicated when you don't know where you're going to sleep from one night to the next?

>> i always thought about the fought. tomorrow there will be better days. do what you have to do at the time.

>> we can all learn something from you, absolutely.

>> chelisa, such a pleasure to meet you.

>> congratulations to you and your sister, chelsea.

>> and good luck at spelman. great school. thanks so much.