After living in a homeless shelter, being bullied for being a “bookworm”, and spending a great deal of time in the hospital for severe migraines due to stress, Richard Jenkins has found a way to turn life’s negatives into positives. The Philadelphia teen has been accepted into Harvard University on a full scholarship.
In an interview with Philadelphia public radio station WHYY, Jenkins recalls an embarrassing yet life-changing moment where he admits to being ashamed to say he lived in a shelter.
“In the sixth grade, one time I was walking from school with my friend, and he was asking me where I lived,” he recalled. “The shelter looked like a big house — it could have been a mansion. So I told him, ‘Yeah, that’s my house right there,’ because I was so embarrassed to say I lived in a shelter. That’s when I realized I’ve got to buckle in because I can’t have my potential kids going through what I’m going through now.”
Ironically nicknamed “Harvard” for being devoted to academics, Jenkins began to take his studies more seriously, attending a non-profit after-school program at his middle school called Mighty Writers, which helps students sharpen their writing skills. Richard also began the agonizing process of applying to attend a selective high school, which started to a toll on his health.
“My migraines started in the eighth grade because of all of the stress I was dealing with at the time. There was a lot of pressure to get into high school and succeed. And then my dad had a heart attack,” he recalled. “I was eventually able to fight through it and get my work done because, at the end of the day, that was what was the most important to me.”
After being accepted into Girard College, a full-scholarship boarding high school for students from single-parent families with limited financial resources, Richard Jenkins went on to become his class valedictorian. He applied to several institutions, including three Ivy League schools, where he was ultimately accepted into Harvard on a full ride. There he plans to major in computer science.
“I’m most excited about the opportunity to expand my knowledge, because there’s so much history inside Harvard’s halls and so many people from different backgrounds, and I think it’s the perfect place to cultivate a mind,” says Jenkins.
Richard also says that what keeps him focused is the desire to want better his family.
“My drive comes from just wanting to see myself and my family be in a better situation and I do think drive is important for everybody, but what’s more important is that once you find what it is that you want, you have to keep working for it,” he says. “People may think that they’ve done enough, but it’s never enough.”