Georgia Teenager Overcomes Homelessness to Become Valedictorian

Chelesa Fearce, 17, spent much of high school living in shelters and cars.

ByABC News
May 23, 2013, 11:43 AM

May 23, 2013 — -- When 17-year-old valedictorian Chelesa Fearce stands before her Georgia high school graduating class today to give her speech, she will talk about overcoming homelessness and fighting to "get the future that you want."

Fearce, a senior at Charles Drew High School in Riverdale, Ga., spent most of her high school career living in shelters, the occasional hotel, short-term rented apartments and sometimes the family car -- when the family had one -- with her mother and three siblings.

"I would just pray," Fearce told "My mom, whenever we're in that situation, she always finds a way out of it. So I would just tell myself, tomorrow it will not be like this, so take your time, do what you have to do now so that you get the future that you want tomorrow."

Regardless of where she was living, Fearce found a way to study. She recalled using a cellphone light in shelters to get her homework done.

"I'm so happy that I got through all of this and that I finally have gotten to this point," she said. "All the studying I've done ... you don't know! It was crazy. I was studying science, math, everything. I'm very proud to come this far."

Her favorite subjects were literature and science, especially chemistry and physics. Fearce wants to be an oncologist when she's older.

Fearce's "very proud" mother said that despite the family's hardships, she always emphasized education for her children.

"I read to them a lot, took them to the library," Reenita Shephard told ABC News' Atlanta affiliate WSB-TV. "Everything around me was a learning experience."

Fearce completed high school with a 4.466 GPA and scored a 1900 on the SATs. She tested high enough in school to enroll in local college courses for her last two years of high school. When she starts Spelman College in the fall, she will already be a college junior.

"Chelesa is an outstanding young lady. She's very conscientious, always going over and beyond and is a very humble young lady," Fearce's school counselor, Razelda Killen, told

Killen praised Fearce's positive attitude and described how Fearce always has a smile on her face.

"She has overcome some obstacles," Killen said. "She has been homeless, but in spite of those obstacles she has still done an outstanding job academically, socially and still has goals to go even beyond."

On Saturday, Fearce's 18-year-old sister will graduate as salutatorian from a different high school.

Fearce hopes that her speech at today's graduation ceremony will motivate her classmates.

"Our mascots are the Titans, and I feel like the Titans are very influential," she said, giving a preview of what her speech would be about. "They're strong, and they need to be strong despite their hardships."