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.



Image Credit: AHAR to Congress

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.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Sophie Kleeman

Sophie is a staff writer at Mic covering the intersection of tech and culture. She's based in New York and can be reached at sophie@mic.com.

MORE FROM

Hillary Clinton says Republicans will be the "death party" if they pass health care bill

Hillary Clinton spoke out against the Republican's proposed bill on Twitter.

It's time to redefine the clitoris, according to sex education experts

"Words matter. They shape and mold our ideas and beliefs about our purpose, our bodies, our self-worth and our place in the world around us."

Al-Jazeera becomes a target amid Qatar diplomatic crisis

Gulf states are demanding the broadcaster be shut down.

5 blocks of London apartments to be evacuated over potentially flammable cladding

800 North London apartments will be evacuated following a fire inspection that turned up evidence that the buildings could be unsafe.

Tomi Lahren wants to rally women to her side after criticizing feminists and "pro-choicers"

"My view on abortion is not black-and-white," Lahren said.

These 5 states are drafting laws to limit protests on college campuses

The legislation is intended to protect free speech on campus.

Hillary Clinton says Republicans will be the "death party" if they pass health care bill

Hillary Clinton spoke out against the Republican's proposed bill on Twitter.

It's time to redefine the clitoris, according to sex education experts

"Words matter. They shape and mold our ideas and beliefs about our purpose, our bodies, our self-worth and our place in the world around us."

Al-Jazeera becomes a target amid Qatar diplomatic crisis

Gulf states are demanding the broadcaster be shut down.

5 blocks of London apartments to be evacuated over potentially flammable cladding

800 North London apartments will be evacuated following a fire inspection that turned up evidence that the buildings could be unsafe.

Tomi Lahren wants to rally women to her side after criticizing feminists and "pro-choicers"

"My view on abortion is not black-and-white," Lahren said.

These 5 states are drafting laws to limit protests on college campuses

The legislation is intended to protect free speech on campus.