What is it about the human spirit that refuses to be defeated? This is a question that high school valedictorians Rashema Melson of Washington, D.C. and Griffin Furlong of Jacksonville, FL are in an excellent position to answer. Both teens graduated at the top of their respective classes in spite of being homeless.
Rashema Melson along with her mother and two brothers lived for the past three years in a homeless shelter in a tough part of D.C. And if that is not troubling enough, this shelter has reportedly been plagued by constant power outages, unsanitary conditions, and poor safety standards. But Rashema persevered. In a recent interview with CTV’s Canada AM Rashema said “I was going to school with a bunch of people who were so nonchalant about their education, and I knew the only way out was through my education.” Her determination propelled her to a height that many with substantially more resources are unable to reach. Rashema will be attending prestigious Georgetown University with a full Scholarship. To put her Georgetown attendance into proper prospective, here is a short list of leaders who attended Georgetown: Bill Clinton, former President of the United States; Gen. Alexander Haig, former US Secretary of State; Laura Chinchilla, former President of Costa Rica, and many others who have excelled on both national and international levels.
Griffin Furlong’s story is another lesson in perseverance and triumph. Along with his father and older brother, Griffin lived for two years in a homeless shelter in Louisville, K after the untimely death of his mother from leukemia. His family later moved to Jacksonville, FL. The family struggled financially however, and sadly he found himself homeless again a little more than a month ago. What motivated him you might ask? Well, in Griffin’s words in an interview with Mike Lyons in the First Coast News (May 27, 2014), "Positive mindset. I try to accomplish everything I need to do. I know that I have everything to lose. So I just push myself. School is all I have, family is all I have. I am doing it all for me and what I have been through. I am doing it for my mom.” Griffin is still working on getting college scholarships. A GoFundMe account has been set up in Furlong's name.
So what drives people to succeed in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds while others in much better situations will not put in even a minimum amount of work? Michael Oher for example went from homeless to the NFL. LeBron James (of NBA fame) went to live with a mentor who introduced him to basketball when he was just nine years old. James' young mother often struggled to make ends meet in the seedier neighborhoods of Akron, OH and felt it better on occasion to place him in more stable environments. Both James and Oher exhibit an indomitable spirit and a strong desire to succeed.
The type of spirit that allowed two homeless teens to graduate at the top of their classes and that same spirit that is working within countless others have become a teachable moment. Are you so involved in your children or grandchildren’s lives that you never allow them to face the consequences of their actions especially when it will cause them pain? Or on the other hand, do you constantly expect others to bail you out financially and emotionally? The aforementioned young people appear to have found a way to stand without blaming and without expectations from others.
“You have to count on living every single day in a way you believe will make you feel good about your life…” (Jane Seymour)