Defying The Odds: New Orleans Teen Experiencing Homelessness Graduates High School As Valedictorian

Courtesy Kewe Ukpolo

Elijah Hogan, a Louisiana student experiencing homelessness, recently graduated at the top of his class with the highest-earned GPA.

Hogan, 19, was named valedictorian of Walter L. Cohen High School in New Orleans and graduated May 24 with a 3.93 GPA, according to CNN. When he learned of his academic accomplishments, Hogan, who became homeless about a year and a half ago, said he was in disbelief.

“I thought they were mistaking me for someone else, but when I looked at it, and I was shown evidence that it was me, I was in awe, like, I was jaw dropped,” he told CNN.

The inspiring teen faced significant challenges from a young age. His mother passed away when he was just eight years old. After living with his grandmother since age 11, he says he became homeless after the lease on his grandmother’s house expired when the homeowner decided to sell the property, and they had to vacate.

“From there, I made the executive decision to live on my own to lighten my grandmother’s burden,” he said. While the teen’s grandmother went to live in a care home for the elderly, Hogan was left without permanent housing.

Hogan’s grandmother told him about the Covenant House, a homeless shelter in New Orleans serving youth and young adults ages 16-22. He has been living at the shelter as part of its transitional housing program.

In his graduation speech, Hogan commended his classmates for their perseverance through the pandemic and various hardships. He emphasized the importance of setting goals and staying committed to them.

“Above all the trials, tests, and hardships, what led us here is that we all set a goal to reach,” Hogan said. “Take pride in how far you have come. Have faith in how far you can go. But don’t forget to enjoy your journey.”

He credits his Covenant House case manager, Jarkayla Cobb, with never giving up on him. “She helped me get through it even when I was showing a lack of faith in myself,” Hogan said. “She’s been there no matter what I needed.”

He also expressed gratitude to the community that supported him, describing his speech as a “thank-you note.”

Hogan plans to attend Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where he will receive some tuition assistance while pursuing a degree in graphic design. He encouraged other students facing hardships to remain focused on their education.

“Without your education, you will not be able to get through the hardships and meet the people that helped you along the way,” Hogan advised.

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