A D.C. Teenager Just Shattered Every Stereotype About the Homeless


The news: Rashema Melson, a homeless student living in one of the roughest areas of Washington, D.C., will attend Georgetown University this fall on a full scholarship. On top of that, she’s graduating as her high school’s valedictorian.

Melson, who gave the commencement speech at her school’s graduation ceremony on June 11, grew up with the deck stacked against her. Her father was killed before her first birthday, and her mother raised her in a shelter with her three siblings. Because of the shelter’s lack of privacy and quiet, she left for school at 7 a.m. to study, and often didn’t return until late at night. This is especially impressive given Anacostia High School’s graduation rate of 43%, which is well below the national average.

Melson’s climb to the top was especially steep. A cursory glance at figures on homeless youth reveals this. Seventy-five percent have dropped out or will drop out of school, the majority of whom are female. Homeless youth are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as have unprotected sex and IV drug use. They are also more susceptible to severe anxiety, depression, suicide and poor health.

The takeaway: Homelessness among college students is undeniably a worrying trend, and Melson’s success, as well as those with similar stories, are inspiring examples of students working to overcome enormous burdens. “It’s hard because sometimes you have bad days, and I don’t want to get up,” she told the Washington Post. “Like, what’s the point? After all these years, and we’re still in the same situation. We haven’t had a home in five or six years. But you have to keep going. Because education is the only way out.”

She's not alone in thinking this. Indeed, 31% of young people without a high school diploma live in poverty, compared with 24% who graduated. There is also a direct relationship between level of education and wages -- those with a bachelor’s degree make almost three times as much as those without a diploma.

Image Credit: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Despite this evidence, cuts to education budgets are rampant. Colleges and high schools alike are experiencing tightening purse strings on a state level, while Republican-backed legislation is doing the same thing on a federal level. By shredding education funding, stories like Melson’s may become rarer than they already are. While her narrative is courageous and inspiring, it shouldn’t be the only one.