23-year-old Rashema Melson, who lived in a Washington, D.C. shelter for over three years, graduated valedictorian of her class at Anacostia High School in 2014 with a full ride to Georgetown University.
This Saturday, she became the first person of her family to graduate college. She attained a degree in justice and peace studies, and her plan is to get a job at a service organization in Washington D.C.
Melson spoke about some of the hardships she faced in her life with an interview with ABC news.
She bounced between public housing and homelessness in the Southeast D.C. area, and at one point even lived in an abandoned house. She recalls waking up to bites from bed bugs on multiple occasions, changing schools regularly, and eating food straight out of the can.
“My life has always been rough, homeless or not, in Southeast, it’s rough, regardless. The circumstances are just rough due to the fact that we don’t have the tools or resources as everyone else” she told ABC News.
Reading and learning helped Melson focus and imagine a better life, and her friends’ support helped her through the journey. During her freshman year at Georgetown, she left to get married, and when it didn’t work out her friends were the ones that got her to go back to school and finish her studies.
She hopes to inspire people going through difficult situations by reminding them that things always get better. “Just know that your blessing is there waiting for you, you just have to go get it”, she said.
One day, Melson thinks Americans can entertain a wider view of homelessness. “How do you know that I am homeless? Because, am I supposed to look dirty? Am I supposed to stink? What does that mean? It’s not offensive when people do it but you really can’t tell anything from looking at a person.”