On Wednesday, Rashema Melson will graduate at the top of her class as the valedictorian of Anacostia High School in Washington, D.C. She’s headed to Georgetown University this fall on a full scholarship.
Melson has excelled at her homework — but for the past six years, she hasn’t had a home to do that work in. She currently lives in the D.C. General homeless shelter, along with her mother and two brothers. The shelter houses up to 300 adults and 500 children and has come under scrutiny for its poor conditions.
Melson, 18, tells NPR’s Audie Cornish that after school, a typical night involves reluctantly heading back to the shelter around 9:30 p.m.
“I try to stay out as late as possible,” she says. “I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite place.”
Among the many frustrations of shelter life are long security checks and noise. Because of the second, she would often wake up in the middle of the night just to do her homework in peace. Melson says she didn’t keep her homelessness a secret from classmates — but didn’t offer up the information either.
“I don’t like sharing with kids because they start to pity you or they start to look at you in a different way,” she says. “And I feel like, ‘Hey, I’m just like the rest of you. I come in to get an education.’ ”
Even Melson isn’t sure how she’s managed to successfully juggle school (a 4.0 GPA), athletics (cross-country, track, volleyball) and homelessness. “I just know when I have a goal, I try not to let anything get in the way,” she says.