High school is one of those times in life when things are particularly eventful and stressful.
Being named valedictorian is one of the most prestigious honors a student will receive in high school, and to achieve this honor, you must maintain a GPA of 3.9 to 4.0 during your school years.
With nearly perfect grades, this achievement took a lot of time, hard work, and dedication for one boy.
Griffin Furlong was named the valedictorian of his high school, but his path to achievement was much more difficult than the average student’s—he was homeless. He revealed this in his valedictorian speech, something most of the other graduates knew nothing about.
“I can’t even count the number of sleepless nights I spent alone on a cold plastic mattress. I cried, internally hoping that my life would soon wash away so I would not have to bear the hardships of a seemingly evil world,” he said.
He and his father were homeless for more than a decade, and he spent his entire high school career without even getting his own place. He didn’t have a place to sleep, freshen up, or study.
Griffin was completely set on making the most of his life, and he knew that getting a good education would be the first and most important step.
“I just want to show that anyone can do it, no matter what you’ve been through. I never want to live that life again. I do everything I do because I don’t want to live like that,” he told ABC News.
Griffin’s father had financial difficulties after his mother died of cancer. The family home’s expenses were too high for them to bear on their own, and they’ve been living in poverty ever since. He and his family became homeless for 12 years. They survived by living in shelters and other temporary places.
The young man recalled one night in particular when he and his dad were staying in a hotel. He was hungry and had nothing to eat, but he still kept his head up at school.
He was able to conceal his struggles so well behind a mask that none of the teachers knew what he was going through.
Griffin, like his older brother, wants to pursue an engineering degree at Florida State. He has already earned a housing scholarship and is expecting to receive a tuition scholarship as well. Friends helped raise over 40,000 dollars to help put him through college.
If Griffin wants to give others a message, it is this.
“Just never give up,” he stated in an interview with TODAY.com. “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, because I’ve been told that all my life. People would tell me I wasn’t smart enough, and now I’m here at the top of my class.”
“It’s definitely taken a little weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I don’t just walk up to people and say, ‘Hey, I’m homeless.’ It’s a hard thing to do. Only a few of my best friends know everything that has ever happened,” he told Today.
His memories of growing up poor are imprinted in his mind. He once walked five miles as a 7-year-old with his father and older brother Sean to find a bed at a Louisville homeless shelter.
“It was nighttime, and there were no sheets on the bed, and the mattresses were hard and plastic,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep for the whole first month we were there.”
He said times when they were just barely able to survive, but he never missed one school assignment.
“I had to grow up really fast,” he said. “I’ve seen things that kids wouldn’t ever see in their lives. I would be starving at night, and I’ve seen my dad physically abused in front of me. I don’t take anything for granted anymore.”