Homeless Washington D.C. high schooler graduates as class valedictorian

Rashema Melson
Rashema Melson

WASHINGTON D.C. (WUSA) — A homeless Washington D.C. high school student overcame incredible odds to graduate at the top of her class.

Now she has a permanent home — on a full ride.

This is what it sounds like to graduate from Southeast D.C.’s Anacostia High School.

You might think it’s just high school.

But it’s not.

At Anacostia High, D.C. police officers have to escort students home at the end of each day. Protecting them against neighborhood gang violence.

These are the ones who made it.

They’re crossing the stage having earned their diplomas.

“I feel better. I feel I did it, you know. I finally got the diploma in my hands,” Rashema Melson said.

Melson’s story might be the most improbable of all.

Her father was killed when she was 7 months old.

She spent her childhood bouncing around from apartment to apartment.

For the last 2 years, she has lived with her mother and two brothers in a single room at the D.C. General Homeless Shelter.

Today, Melson graduated as her class valedictorian.

“That’s an every month thing — another challenge, another battle, another obstacle in your way and then you go right through it. That’s the only way through the storm, you go right through it,” said Melson, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

But she admits – considering family hardships, rough neighborhoods and trying to do homework in a homeless shelter – there were plenty of moments of doubt.

“I started to give up but then I saw signs that God was not putting me through this to punish me but to show others how to be resilient and persistent in the goals of life,” Melson told her fellow graduates and families during her valedictory address at the graduation ceremony Wednesday at Howard University.

During the speech she thanked her family and a list of teachers, counselors, administrators and coaches from Anacostia High School.

“As usual, Anacostia is always there. They’re really my second family,” said Melson.

“Throughout my journey here I’ve learned that time does not wait, pity or adjust for or to anyone and life is not fair. Life is not fair,” continued Melson.

How did her hardships help shape who she is today?

“It just helped strengthen me and to do anything that I needed to do and wanted to do,” Melson answered.

This homeless high schooler finally has a permanent home at Georgetown University.

She’ll be attending on a full scholarship.

“It’s just one step forward. It’s not over yet,” Melson said.

No, she’s just getting started.

“Too many of us decide that, based on our surroundings, what we can and cannot do,” economist Julianne Malveaux said in the commencement speech.

But if Rashema Melson and her fellow graduates prove anything, it’s that improbable doesn’t make it impossible.

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