Teen Who Slept in Homeless Shelters as a Child Just Landed a Full Ride to Harvard

When I was about to enter college, my parents solicited letters full of life advice from friends of the family. One of them, a missive written by an older gentleman we hadn’t heard from in years, stuck with me.

The man wrote, “Don’t always be the first one with an answer, because people love to pick on anyone who stands out from the crowd.” Eighteen-year-old Philadelphia student Richard Jenkins certainly understands how that social dynamic works.

Jenkins never really tried to hide his intelligence. In fact, he saw it as a way to survive a challenging upbringing.


While in middle school, his family’s home fell into foreclosure and got seized by the bank. He, his two brothers, and his mother floated back and forth between Florida and Pennsylvania for two years.

Then the Jenkins clan ended up homeless while Richard was in the sixth grade. In fact, he told WHYY that the experience of lying to a classmate about living in a shelter crystallized his life goals.


“I was so embarrassed to say I lived in a shelter,” he said. “But that’s when I realized I’ve got to buckle in because I can’t have my potential kids going through what I’m going through now.”

His mother strongly supported his goals, and when she learned of an opening at Philadelphia’s Girard College, she urged him to fill out an application. Girard exists to provide motivated students from single-parent families with an excellent education.

However, Richard’s schoolmates over the years never made it easy for him. When he would leap to answer questions in class, they would start to make fun of him by calling him “Harvard.”

“It was their way of taunting me, like, ‘Oh, you think you’re so smart,’” he explained to CNN. That wasn’t his only difficulty either.


In addition to poverty and peer pressure, Richard also had to deal with crippling headaches that required hospitalization.

“My migraines started in the eighth grade because of all of the stress I was dealing with at the time,” he said.

The pressure paid off, though. Despite being rejected by Yale and Penn State, Richard got accepted to Harvard — and received a full scholarship.

“I think I said, ‘I told you so,’” his mother recalled. “I just had a feeling he would be accepted. He had all the qualifications.”


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