A D.C. high school student who spent the past two years living in a homeless shelter has graduated high school as a valedictorian and will head to Georgetown University with a full scholarship.
Rashema Melson, 18, gave the valedictory speech at Anacostia High School's commencement ceremony, telling her fellow classmates to never give up -- because she didn't.
"Never be afraid to go after your dreams," she told her classmates. "Regardless of the negative forecast that has been predicted upon us, beat the odds and let the sun shine."
Her message is also her approach toward life.
"Life is not fair. You must keep striving for success," Rashema said.
Rashema will head off to Georgetown University on a full college scholarship this summer, and hopes to attend medical school after that. But first, she'll get to revel in her accomplishments.
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"You have options and you decide which one you want to take, and I took education because it takes you for the long run," she said. "It's not just a temporary thing or won't just last for five years. Education will take me far."
Rashema's father was killed before her first birthday, and she has moved from home to home, from Maryland to Ohio to Florida to Tennessee. She spent her junior and senior years of high school at the D.C. General homeless shelter, where she lives with her mother and three of her six siblings.
She said she doesn't consider the shelter to be a home.
"There's no furniture... There's no refrigerator," she said. "It's just a place to be content with until you get to where you want to be."
Rashema said she knows that where she lives doesn't have a good reputation, but she used that as a catalyst to propel herself forward.
Her principal at Anacostia High School, Ivan Roberts, had high praise for her.
"Her story and her resilience, just her character and personality traits will impact the lives of a lot of people because she’s always optimistic," Roberts said.
After Rashema's education is complete, she plans to become a forensic pathologist. She knows the road ahead will be long, but isn't afraid of the hard work ahead.
"I [won't] become a certified forensic pathologist until I'm about 31, because I have to do a residency after med school," Rashema said. "So it's a long time to me because I'm young, but I see it, and when I get there, it's going to be the best feeling ever."
Rashema also ran track and cross-country, and said her favorite music artists are Beyonce and Nikki Minaj. She describes herself as outgoing and talkative.
"I like to have fun, but I like to get my work done," she said. "...I've always tried to get the job done. If I say I'm going to do it, [then] it's my task."
She advises others to follow their dreams, and work hard to get what they want.
"Don't do the easy route and just settle for what you have," Rashema said. "Never settle for less."