May 24th, 2013
10:11 AM ET

Homeless teen graduates as valedictorian

(CNN) - Chelesa Fearce is the valedictorian at Charles Drew High School near Atlanta, Georgia, but it didn't come without a fight. The 17-year-old and her family have been homeless for years, living out of shelters, cars and occasionally short-lived apartments while her mom struggled to keep a job.

But Chelesa would crack open books at the homeless shelter and read against a cell phone light, she told CNN affiliate WSB. She's graduating with a 4.46 GPA, and is heading to Spelman College in the fall with enough credits to be a junior.

Her advice to students? "Do what you have to do right now so that you can have the future you want," she said.

From scrubbing floors to Ivy League: Homeless students heads to Harvard

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Filed under: Awesome • College • Graduation • Students
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Realkells

    Everyone needs a cell phone these day for emergencies or entertainment. Never mind that. I think it is wonderful and inspiring that even through all the interfere in her life she was still able to succeed at something that very few have been able to accomplish. This young women is going to do great things in the future. Keep Pushing!

    June 5, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
  2. Yakobi

    Wait a minute. They're homeless, yet could afford a cell phone? Where are people's priorities!?

    June 5, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • sarah

      If they are living in homeless shelters I am sure it is the only way for people to contact the family and for her mother to receive calls for interviews.

      June 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Moni Young

      Government provided cell phones

      June 6, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  3. Lisako McKyer

    For those questioning how or why this remarkable girl has a phone, here is some info.

    Prepaid plans for cell phones make possible for the poor to have phones. They NEED them. For what? How about a phone number for prospective employers to contact you for an interview? They can't mail you an interview invite because ya don't have an address. Many social service agencies need a way to contact the poor as well.

    It's easy to judge the poor when you have never walked in their shoes. Shameless.

    June 5, 2013 at 7:38 am |
    • Yakobi

      Been there, done that. Shelter is a necessity; cell phones are luxuries.

      June 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  4. thomas stevens

    people should have the right to pass as a valedictorian even if they dont have somewhere to live they can still make a difference in the world today. i believe anybody can do something great as long as they set there mind to it.

    June 4, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  5. bianca

    she is right,work now at school from a better hard play hard.<3<3

    June 4, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  6. dstini

    That's a miracle that happended to this young graduate im happy for her even though i dont know her ...

    June 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  7. sks

    She did, what she wanted. She is awesome.

    June 1, 2013 at 7:13 am |
    • thomas stevens

      yes she is she's a boss

      June 4, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  8. Gracie

    She is awesome. Why so many people focus on her cellphone. I mean it is not the point at all. The thing is imagine you arein the same situation,what will you do to change your life. Can we do better

    May 31, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  9. Jo

    I work in an urban school district with a large number of homeless students - I can tell you firsthand that many of these kids end up dropping out well before 12th grade. So with that in mind, it's really something to hear about a young lady such as Chelsea, excelling to this degree. Much luck to her!

    May 30, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  10. leticia clay

    I am a single mother of 6 kids and I am going to school to get my certification in nursing. altho we are struggling and homeless, my kids are intelligent and get rewarded at school for winning art contests. I hope the best for the many who strive and fight

    May 29, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  11. Marie

    I think this is really awsome that she gets to graduateas valedictorian! She looks like she worked really hard to earn it so why not give her the reward she deserves. Her story just goes to show that anything is possible if you just keep workinjg at it. My congrats go ouot to her!

    May 29, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  12. Jeff K

    People do realize that in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan signed into law an act that gave free phones to people that were poor and/or without jobs. The thought behind this program, which is paid for by the phone companies, is that the poor often cannot afford phone lines needed to find jobs. This program has been very successful and was expanded to include free cell phones under President George W. Bush. So, it is very possible that she could have gotten a cellphone from the Reagan/Bush free phone program.

    May 28, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • sarah

      I try to point this out all the time! People are ill informed, and refer to OBAMAphones when it was Reagan that began such a program.

      June 5, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  13. puzzled

    unpuzzled,if you would take the opportunity to educate instead of resorting to name calling when you hear/read a statement like the first one that I made, you would do so much more to enlighten people as to the plight of the homeless.
    Thank-you "disappointed" for the information on the necessity of a cell phone for the homeless. I am sure by what you wrote that you agree in principle with what unpuzzled was saying, you however presented it in a way that was much more receptive.

    And as for "me" and your Obama phone, I won't even go there!

    May 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  14. Kimi Su

    smh why cant people just find compassion in there hearts seriously its pathetic
    and for those who want to boast brag and feed there own ego on this blog when its in reference to someone else your classless
    money isn't anything but a diminishing object like this world its not the money that makes you but the imprint your character will leave on ones mind and it isn't our place to try and figure out the sincerity or truth of the story i mean if we only did things for people based on our own needs and wants technically we wouldn't be doing something for anyone but our-self it isn't our place to figure out if they have jobs and homes and if there just really pan handling who cares why does that matter I try to give as often as i can although i to used to think in say they are not broke too i mean i have actually seen one climb in a car ahahah who cares it doesn't bring anything but positive karma count your blessings ......but think a little deeper about your own thought that same thought of whether or not they are financially ok is a form of a judgment so don't be a hypocrite as you unconsciously contradict yourself and then try to use the word of god to back it up cause i know you know better then that .....don't take his words out of context devour them would we be here if Jesus would had said you know what eff them im not dying for these humans sins when there all just going to be lead astray by Satans temptations no he didn't he kept humility hope and faith ......smh we are all one why cant we see and understand that and be happy for each other ???? this girl has a very similar story to mines so yeah the hate hurts my eyes to read ...... we who struggle aren't LIARS or con men NOR even come from broken families sometimes its the mishaps that cause you to lose both parents etc smh I'm a child of god who is like all of us who know this worlds true history A MOOR which consisted of many races any-who long story short i was adopted into a middle class Mormon republican family everything was THE BEST until both parents died and i became homeless the foster care agency didn't even take me in until 16 almost 17 let me remind you my parents died at 12 all my life i told myself god must of said oops gave her the wrong life whelp here this is more like it ........but long story short the point im trying to make is when things are hard if your strong with god you will keep pressing the negative talk feeds our soul and keeps us lusting for more losing everyone i loved made me grow detached but yet a lover just wont take being loved i went from the suburbs of canyon lake ca to the foster care system saying you need to learn of your ethnic background so they put me in Compton let me remind you i grew up in a Mormon family and not very diverse area....yes SCARY but you adapt ...yeah im not a child who grew up in alot of poverty and dangerous neighborhoods but Ive experienced that so i understand it just like i understand kids who grow up in wealthy families and great neighborhoods cause i was once one of them to if you wanna live to be what god wants there's so much to my story as im sure there is to all of ours ...... im just trying to defend her story with one very similar to those in disbelief or lack care what does anyone get outta being mean ? idk i used to be so angry i was a ticking time bomb and i grew past that i wasn't even supposed to walk with my class haven slacked off after losing my parents for the second time three friends which i eye witness etc its hard specially when you don't have the right home to comfort and refresh you or family to motivate you of the funds to supply you to fuel you ambition but where there is a will there is a way I ended up graduating early going to school for criminal justice getting my certs. and then went back and revised to go on and get my M.c.S.e in computers which was fun but now will be going back for the last time for my bsw/msw in Oct cause my calling is to do for people ALTHOUGH I BECAME A CHILD WHO HAD NOTHING EVER DONE FOR HER AFTER 12 it was on my own so bless this girls heart she made it and didn't have the behavioral mishaps like i did but in the end we both made it so just see the glory in that rather then trying to figure out something that's clearly stated I MEAN WHO LIES ABOUT BEING HOMELESS???? NOONE BUT MAYBE A UNHAPPY RICH KID you try studying in the slide of the school park and tell me if that's motivating to keep on cause I did it so I KNOW SHE DID AND ISN'T LIEING WHEN PEOPLE ALWAYS SUSPECT ONE OF EVIL WAYS ETC ITS EITHER BECAUSE ITS LOW-KEY YOUR OWN TRAITS OR ITS THE TRAITS OF THOSE YOU ALLOW AROUND YOU applaud her and pray for her future success as Im sure she would and as I know i will be for each and every one who posted a cold hearts comment Im going to pray for your heart to be softened and for your mind to be open as well as happiness to your life cause to be rude to those momentarily less fortunate then you isn't cool tough funny or classy its classless ......BTW taking care of your kids in ways where they are left nothing to figure out on there own is only handicapping them let them face life's challenges being not there backbone but there brake brace if needed have a great Sunday everyone I hope everything goes just as you would like it to god bless all of you that he may place Christ in your hearts touching you mind body in soul with the holy spirit takecare

    May 26, 2013 at 9:21 am |
    • Kevin Richardson

      Your article is flawed with many questions before judgment, so here goes with a few. Homeless is what it is to a lot of people. First off, I feel homeless every day, yet I have a roof over my head and food on my table, a cell phone, a car, a motorcycle, rental property, etc. I could go on, but this is not about me. Your definition blends well, but your stories don't make sense with your direction. You claim to have graduated early, taken criminal justice courses and being certified within. You claim to have taken computer curses also. FACT or fiction ? You and the audience will decide. To attend criminal justice courses, you have to take many "Speech " classes, English classes, keyboarding classes...I could go on, but the rest of you are getting the picture by now. If not, allow me to give my opinion. You sir, dropped out. That's why you got out of school early. You were homeless because you didn't want to listen to anyone smarter than yourself. You didn't hold a job because of your self centered mind thought everyone was out to get you. You started taking drugs and getting wasted and drunk. Not until recently, you decide to listen to someone. You are getting your life back on track. You missed out on many years of life that will never come back to you. Going forward is a struggle but well worth it. Stay focused on your dreams and stay away from the gutter you were use to living in. Seek help before jumping into something you can't dig your way out of and you will be fine. Good luck sir.

      May 26, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Jo

      Actually, believe it or not, but people DO lie about being homeless...I work in an urban school system and I see it happen all the time. The reason for this is because if a child is declared homeless, she or he automatically gets free lunch, door-to-door bussing, and a number of other "perks." Our district is quite financially strapped, and thus we have limited resources to actually check up on everyone's true situation as well as we might want to. People tell their friends what they see or hear, and the next thing you know, their friends also want the same things...

      May 30, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Yakobi

      Kimi, your post might have been readable if you knew how to punctuate.

      June 5, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  15. Me

    This is awesome. She's very smart and seems she never let homelessness be an excuse to hold her back. Very encouraging! also, for those who are concerned for "cell phone" being the only thing that caught your attention.. There is a nick name for the FREE cell phones that our president has given everyone the opportunity to be able to communicate with family and potential employers, called the "Obama phone" but I'm sure that'll start another debate.

    But anyways I'm proud of Chelsea this is an awesome story.

    May 26, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • Me

      *Chelesa (I misspelled her name)

      May 26, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  16. Disappointed

    It makes me sad for our society when we hear such a encouraging story of a young person who rises above their situation and works as hard as this student did and some people can only focus on the source of light she was using to study late into the night in a homeless shelter. Are we upset that this intelligent young woman and her family aren't poor enough? I'm guessing that if you are homeless and have no permanent or long term address, a cell phone is probably one of the most important things to have for schools, relatives and potential employers to contact you. I don't begrudge this woman, or any homeless person, a cell phone.

    May 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • Unpuzzled

      Thank you for that well written reply. I hope this teens story encourages others who may be in similar situations. I wish her the best.

      May 25, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • Melissa

      Thank you for the thoughtful response. Many of the bitter trolls who frequent these comment sections just love to complain. If this young lady was a high school dropout with a couple of kids, they'd talk crap. But since she's an intelligent, driven young woman who has excelled despite many obstacles, they still talk crap. Nothing makes them happy because they're a bunch of bitter haters. I don't see why it's an issue for a homeless family to have a cell phone; actually they need it more than the average family due to the transient nature of their lifestyle.

      May 30, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
  17. puzzled

    And believe me, my head is not under a rock, I see what is going on in this country and I say that I have to agree with esd200.

    May 25, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Unpuzzled

      Smh, you are a sad and empty individual

      May 25, 2013 at 9:07 pm |
  18. puzzled

    That's right unpuzzled, I do have a computer, and a house and several cars. I also have a job that paid for all these things. What I am saying is that if I was homeless and had no food, I think that I would use the money that I pay for a cell phone and use if on necessities.

    May 25, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • Unpuzzled

      You are so clueless! I can't even get mad at your level of ignorance. Why not step out of you house, with your cars, etc and visit a homeless shelter...... BTW, I have a house, cars, a career and several degrees and I find time to help instead of judge! Why don't you try that?

      May 25, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
    • Melissa

      Hello, when you're homeless a cellphone IS a necessity. Just because you're homeless doesn't mean you don't have emergencies, kids in school, a job, etc. Get real!

      May 30, 2013 at 11:32 pm |
  19. Unpuzzled

    In reference to puzzled, you are so out of touch! I volunteer at a homeless shelter. As a matter of fact, there are 2 homeless men doing odd jobs for me as we speak. They both have cell phones!!! All of the homeless people at the shelter have cell phones. Get your head from underneath a rock and find out what is going on in the real world. You talk about Homeless with a cell phone.... I see you as an idiot with a computer.

    May 25, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • heather smith

      and who pays for the cell phones?

      May 25, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
      • Unpuzzled

        To those of you who are ignorant to the plight of homelessness, let me give you a bit of information. Many of them work! They use the cell phone because it is necessary for communication with doctors, schools of their children, seeking housing or employment, etc. ...any application of any kind requires a phone number! The homeless men and women that I know pay their phone bills themselves! They can afford a 30-50 dollar a month phone bill but not a 600- and up rent. Instead of you trying to find fault, consider yourself Blessed. The very ones of you who are looking down your noses at these may find yourselves in a similar predicament if you are not careful. Judge not, that ye be not judged

        May 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  20. esd200

    Homeless families, familyless homes. GREATEST Country? Really?

    May 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  21. puzzled

    Homeless – studies by the light of her CELL PHONE. Something just doesn't seem right

    May 25, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • keep it up

      A lot of people hating on a teenage girl for accomplishing something they never could. Keep your head up and moving forward and give back when youre in a position to

      May 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Kumar

      There wouldn't be so much controversy if she used a flashlight rather than a cell phone to do her homework (even though she has one).

      June 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  22. Cw33

    I took a human motivation class and there was a question that to most now is obvious. Given two people, one who has all the materials and resources, even funds to study college. Then the other who has nearly no resources and has the motivation to achieve it. I see internal motivation is the key to any task.

    May 25, 2013 at 1:15 am |
  23. Ahria

    The greatest country on earth? and the family is homeless? What madness.

    May 24, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  24. fred1369

    My own son with the killer SAT scores dropped out of college his freshman year and has stayed in his room since then thus wasting my $14,000. I should send money to this kid but she doesn't have an address.

    May 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • heather smith

      kick your kid out of your house if you didn't already,

      May 25, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • Kevin Richardson

      Your son needs direction and a swift kick in the ass to get him rolling that direction. Thousands of parents do the same thing you have. They sign blank checks hoping for a wise future in their son or daughter. He needed a vision or a light at the end of his tunnel. He needed a reason of his own to reach that light, not yours. If you had any doubts before sending him off to college, remember this....YOU ARE AND WILL ALWAYS BE HIS FATHER ! ! His actions fall on you sooner or later. Perhaps you could have talked him into signing up for ROTC. I know if he took that class and listened, he would have made wiser decisions with his "spare time" while not in class. Perhaps he was never given the chance to fail as a child. Was he "spoiled" ? So many questions...a day late and a dollar short. Good luck sir.

      May 26, 2013 at 11:37 am |