Homeless to Harvard

A few weeks ago, I came across an amazing and touching story about a Dawn Loggins homeless American girl who got into Harvard a few weeks ago.

The story has so many life and career lessons.

Here's the short version of the story:

Dawn grew up in a home without electricity and water. To wash her hands, she had to walk 20 minutes to get water. At times, she would take a bath or shower 4 - 6 times a year.

Just past the midpoint of high school, she was fortunate enough to gain entry to an elite summer program for promising students in her state. When she called her parents to come pick her up, she discovered that her parents phone had been disconnect. When she called friends to try and contact her parents, she eventually discovered her parents had moved out of state without telling her, without bringing her, and with no plans to return.

In other words, Dawn had been abandoned.

Under these extreme circumstances, most people would simply give up on life. But, Dawn had a different idea. She knew that if she didn't do something about it, her life would take a path similar to her parents--and she definitely did not want to repeat their mistakes. Her dream? She wanted to go to college and make something of herself. Her dream of dreams? To go to Harvard -- even though nobody in her area, in her school has ever gotten into any Ivy League school let alone Harvard.

Her teachers and principal took turns letting her sleep on their coach and feeding her. To help pay the bills she took the job of janitor at her school -- cleaning the floors and toilets before school started each day. She would wake up at 4am to walk to go to school to clean her classmates messes, attend school all day, do her after school activities, come home, study, sleep and repeat the whole process again.

Her entire community helped to raise, shelter, feed and clothe her. Everybody pitched in where they could.

And after all this hardship (and probably heart ache), Harvard sent a reply to her application… and She GOT IN!

Now lets examine this situation more closely. Dawn's grades were good, but definitely not perfect. Her test scores were good, but again not exceptional. So why did Harvard say yes?


For someone in Dawn's situation, the magnitude of her accomplishment vs her resources was just exceptional. I am certain most Harvard kids, if put in the same situation, would not have achieved what Dawn did.

To appreciate this fully, let me add some additional information. One of my friends who I met when we were both at McKinsey is Angela Duckworth. Angie is now a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and has been doing some exceptional research in psychology and education. Her area of focus has been trying to answer the question of where does success come from. Her latest work has identified that one of the leading predictors of life success, that is MORE predictive of life success than grades, test scores, or degrees, is what she calls "Grit".

Grit is the ability to work HARDER in the face of ADVERSITY. It is one thing to work harder when what you do is working and you're "winning", it is another entirely to refuse to quit, focus, and worked harder with absolutely no short term indicators that you'll succeed. THAT is what Angie calls "grit".

Now going back to the story of Dawn and how she went from homeless to Harvard, the one thing she exhibited in spades (arguably more than any other in coming Freshman at Harvard) is GRIT.

Trust me when I say that for Dawn, Harvard will be EASY compared to Life (as she has known it the last few years).

From an admissions committee standpoint, it is very easy to see Dawn with her "grit" and to extrapolate where such an exceptional young women will be in 10 or 20 years -- with Harvard behind her name. Truly ANYTHING is possible. My guess was Harvard's decision was an easy one for them to make.

What I find so fascinating about Dawn's story is how she has handled rejection.

It is one thing to do poorly on one of many job interviews and to get rejected. It is another thing when your PARENTS reject you. Dawn's parents were not injured or hurt in any way. No, Dawn's CHOSE to abandon her. I have a hard time thinking of any other kind of rejection that is as profoundly deep and hurtful as what Dawn experience. Yet she persevered in her adversity and got into Harvard.

What a remarkably impressive young women.

For the full story on Dawn from CNN, click here.

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1 comment… add one
  • Joy Jun 14, 2014, 3:17 pm

    Well, my take from this is that her VISION drove her through all the miserable stuff life threw at her. Imagine how many girls in her circumstance would know Harvard not even mention trying to get in Harvard.

    When I looked back at my life, I regretted so many things. The biggest issue I would painfully admit was that the lack of vision led me where I am today. If only I was able to dream a little bigger, aim a little higher, things will be totally different.

    Now I realize it, hopefully I can get myself going further by catching up.

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