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This Cleveland Honors Student Went from Homeless to Harvard

David Boone slept on park benches, but thanks to the interventions of caring educators, now he's a freshman in Cambridge.

Writer and education activist Jonathan Kozol reminds us that when it comes to education, we shouldn't "celebrate exceptionality of opportunity," and "charity is not justice." Sometimes, though, we need one of those beat-the-odds kinds of stories to remind us that it's still possible for kids to overcome even the direst circumstances.

Cleveland native David Boone knows a little something about that. Boone became homeless as a 14-year-old middle schooler after his house was shot up by gang members, but thanks to his hard work and the interventions of educators, he started at Harvard this fall.

Boone says he slept on park benches until a school nurse and his high school principal found out. The principal invited Boone to live with his family—he stayed there until he moved in with a school friend. And, although he'd earned poor grades in middle school, thanks to the project-based learning approach of his STEM-focused high school, he got excited about learning and began considering going to college. "My principal had given me Ron Suskind’s book A Hope in the Unseen about Cedric Jennings' journey from the inner city to the Ivy League," writes Boone. "That story gave me the courage not only to apply to college, but also to aim for academically rigorous schools."

A weekend mentoring program called Minds Matter helped Boone, who had a 3.8 GPA, apply to college. "I had my heart set on MIT," says Boone, "which is why my confidence was shaken when I didn’t get in." But, when he found out last March that he'd been accepted to Harvard with a full scholarship, "I screamed, then called my mom and principal with the great news," he says. "'I’m so proud of you,' my principal said before offering me two words of wisdom I’ll always remember: 'Stay grounded.'"

Boone certainly seems to be following his mentor's advice. He plans to major in electrical engineering and computer science, start a tech company, and "improve the lives of my family by helping them break the cycle of poverty." He also wants to make sure his success story doesn't become one of those rare exceptions. Boone plans to pay forward the assistance he received by creating a scholarship fund for students who "are in situations more difficult than mine."

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Paco Seoane

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