From Hardship to Harvard

You may have heard or watched the story of Ashley Dawn Loggins, the 18-year-old high school student-janitress from Lawndale, North Carolina, via ABC, CNN, and all the other international networks.

When Dawn returned home from representing her school at a summer program, it wasn’t too long when she realized she was already abandoned by her family. She found out that her grandmother was brought to a homeless shelter, her brother left as well, and her parents left for Tennessee and decided to stay there for good.

Dawn and her brother Shane had a difficult life with their drug-abusing parents. They would survive from “paycheck to paycheck”; some days they were without food. They described their living conditions “disgusting” in a CNN interview. Their dilapidated house has no electricity and was infested with cockroaches. They would spend months without a bath because they have no running water.

There were times when Dawn had to wear the same dress to school for many weeks. A young Dawn thought this was normal, but as she was growing up, she knew she was not like the other children, who started teasing her and calling her “dirty.”

A young Dawn was left under her grandma’s care several times. The home she stayed in was unkempt and riddled with trash. She regretted that her grandma didn’t explain to her the importance of hygiene and taking care of oneself. This lack of knowledge then led to more ridicule from her peers.

Despite the teasing, Dawn still found friends in school. One of them was Junie Barrett, a school staff with whom she confided. She shared with Junie how she and her brother had a difficult time studying because they couldn’t afford to buy candles to keep their house lit at night. There was a day, Junie recounted, when Dawn and her brother asked her if they could wash their clothes using the school’s washing machine.

The staff and the other people from her school supported Dawn when they learned she was abandoned. They donated clothes and provided medical and dental care for her. Through a workforce assistance program offered to her, Dawn was given a job as a janitress at Burns High so she could work while studying.

Dawn used her life’s hardships as an inspiration for her to strive harder. Her janitorial work didn’t hinder her from achieving her dreams. She studied harder in school, where she was able to keep an A average in all of her subjects. She promised herself that she would not just graduate from high school but she would also go to college.

She sent applications to different colleges through the guidance counselor and the school principal’s friend. She initially considered Davidson College, Warner Wilson College, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. With a lot of pushing and encouragement from those who have been supportive of her from the very start, she eventually applied to Harvard University.

Dawn fortunately got accepted into all the four schools where she applied. It took a while before she finally got her last, but definitely not the least, acceptance letter—from Harvard, no less! She was the first student in Burns High history to pass the Harvard standards. That was the beginning of the fulfillment of Dawn’s dreams.

Harvard University has committed to paying for her tuition fee, room and board, and even assisting her in finding a job within the campus. Donations have reached her, but this diligent lady said she wouldn’t be using the money for her personal needs.

Dawn is forming and spearheading a non-profit organization named “Uplift” to inspire more young people like her and encourage them to keep working on their dreams despite their difficult times. On her online interviews, Dawn said that in the past, there were other students in worse situations than hers. The only key to escape poverty, she said, is education.

During Dawn’s high school graduation, newspaper reports said her father was still in jail at Lincoln County Detention Center for drug-related charges, her mother moved back with her grandmother, while Dawn’s brother stayed in another town.

Instead of having hatred in her heart, Dawn used her unfortunate past as her inspiration to achieve what she has accomplished. When asked about her parents, Dawn said, she never harbored hatred against them for abandoning her. However, she promised herself that she would never end up like her dad or mom who lived from “paycheck to paycheck.”

Hardships did not deter her to unleash her highest potential. In fact, she even used her bitter past as an instrument to move on and excel in school. In the absence of her family, she worked hard to survive and, at the same time, strived harder not only to finish high school but also enter college—her dream school, Harvard University.

This girl has proven to the world that unleashing one’s potential is achieved NOT by where one comes from or one’s financial standing. Dawn may have been left alone by the four most significant people in her life: her parents, her grandmother, and her brother, but she is now surrounded and supported by more and more people—not just from Burns High School but the whole world!

“One thing we may be sure of, however: For the believer, all pain has meaning; all adversity is profitable. There is no question that adversity is difficult. It usually takes us by surprise and seems to strike where we are most vulnerable. To us it often appears completely senseless and irrational, but to God, none of it is either senseless or irrational. He has a purpose in every pain He brings or allows in our lives. We can be sure that in some way He intends it for our profit and His glory.” — Jerry Bridges

(Excerpted from Avelynn Garcia’s upcoming book Unleash Your Highest Potential)


Avelynn Regalado-Garcia is currently the Executive Vice President of Unleash International Corporation, a high-tech, high-touch, high-impact training company whose main mission is to unleash the highest potential in people towards success, happiness, and significance. For more than 20 years now, she passionately conducts seminars, workshops, conference, and conventions for top local and multinational companies, schools, and organizations in the country and abroad.

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