Stop Calling Me 'The Homeless Valedictorian'
A year and a half ago, Rashema Melson’s story made national news. She attracted attention after she graduated at the top of her high school class in Washington, D.C., and earned a full scholarship to Georgetown, all while living in a homeless shelter. Now halfway through her sophomore year, she says she still gets recognized as “the homeless valedictorian.” She says people stop her for pictures, and strangers even send her donations.
But Melson’s life didn’t change overnight. She visits her mom and her brother in their apartment across town where they've moved since leaving the shelter. She also does her best to help them out with money. While her new classmates are busy partying and enjoying life away from home, she says she's stayed focused on what got her here: working hard. "My job here is to just get my education and keep moving. It’s not a bad thing. It's just my motives are different," Rashema told me. "This isn't permanent. This is my home for the moment."
The pressure she feels to succeed, though, can be weighing. She had what she called "a little breakdown" earlier this semester. "I want to get out and I want to have fun, but I'm kind of stuck. I'm in a situation [where] you're not going back home to a family who financially supports you," Rashema said. "I'm the one who's pushing my family."
Rashema told me about considering dropping out this semester, the distance she feels between herself and her classmates, and why the one thing she's not afraid of is growing apart from her family.