Griffin Furlong graduated at the top of his class from Florida Coast High School in Jacksonville, Florida in 2014. But most of his teachers and classmates did not know that the 18-year-old was homeless.
After his mother’s death from leukemia when he was 6 and a series of family hardships, Griffin, his older brother, and father became homeless, shifting from hotels to motels to shelters. Despite his family hardships, Griffin never missed a day of class or a homework assignment and then achieved a 4.65-grade average in high school, putting him at the top of his class and making him the valedictorian, according to Daily Mail.
When he gave his valedictorian speech at First Coast High School, he revealed to the crowd that behind his amazing achievement as valedictorian, he had been struggling with homelessness. Griffin also told his classmates that ‘giving up is not an option.’
In an interview with Daily Mail, Griffin recalled many nights spent enduring hunger pangs, wishing that he wouldn’t have to wake up to face another day of this.
“Every single one of my peers thinks I live and have lived a normal, everyday life. Everyone thinks I try to get good grades because I’m smart. Not true …” Griffin said. “I make the grades I do because I was once lost, and had nothing.”
“I had to grow up really fast. 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,” he told Today.
His classmates and teachers were astonished, to say the least when they found out that he had been homeless for 12 years.
“I actually cried when I saw it on the news. He’s made straight As across the board in my class, and he never once used his circumstances as a crutch to justify not being able to do anything,” teacher Natalie Donald said.
For a while his family had a rental home, but just before Griffin was due to sit his finals, he was homeless again. He stayed with the family of his girlfriend for a few weeks, before moving in with an aunt and uncle.
“I knew I was going to be poor for the rest of my life, so I thought if I could continue to do well in school, eventually scholarships would be coming my way and I would be getting a free education,” Griffin said. “I would look up things and talk to teachers. I was aware of what I could do if I kept making good grades.”
Griffin never missed a single day of high school, which he credited to the help he received from friends. He also played shortstop and pitcher and never missed a day of practice. He wrote his motto “Never Give Up” on the rim of his baseball caps each season to keep himself focused and said he was driven to succeed in memory of his mother.
“He is a remarkable kid and an excellent student. He’s an inspiration to everyone around him,” Jennifer Stover, who taught Griffin and helped with his college applications, told NBC News.
Griffin was set to go to Florida State just like his brother, where he planned on majoring in engineering, but the fee for tuition and accommodation seemed to endanger his future educational goals. His friends set up an online fundraising account on gofundme.com on Griffin’s behalf to help him raise money, and within two weeks, it had raised $90,000.
Griffin would also like to create a scholarship fund for other Florida students in similar circumstances.
“Don’t dwell on the past, use it as motivation for your future. It’s amazing what you can do with your life when you have motivation, ambition and most importantly, a purpose,” he told the graduates.