Student living in homeless shelter is high school valedictorian

Elijah Hogan considered dropping out of high school as he struggled with homelessness. For two years, he has lived in a youth shelter in New Orleans.

But rather than quit school, Hogan repeated his studies. So much so, in fact, that Hogan graduated valedictorian of his class at Walter L. Cohen High School.

“Be proud of how far you have come,” he said during his promotion speech on May 24. “Be confident in how far you can go.”

In recent years, Hogan said he kept those words close to his heart.

“I had to finish my studies,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post. Despite his difficult situation, he said, he was determined to graduate with the rest of his class of 67 students.

During Hogan’s first two years of high school, he lived with his grandmother. However, at the start of Hogan’s freshman year, the house she was renting went up for sale and they had 30 days to move out. His grandmother moved into a nursing home and Hogan left on his own.

“I wanted to live independently to take the burden off his shoulders,” Hogan, 19, said.

It was not an easy decision to make.

“My head was spinning. I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I was afraid.”

Hogan described his childhood as “splendid”, but everything changed when his mother died on his eighth birthday. Hogan and his siblings – two brothers and a sister – moved in with their grandmother. Over the years, his siblings dispersed, moving elsewhere with other family members or living alone.

“What was sad is that everyone in my family that I know is all out of state,” said Hogan, whose father lives outside Louisiana.

About two years ago, Hogan moved into Covenant House New Orleans, a homeless shelter for young people under 22.

“When I first met him, he was so shy and withdrawn,” said Jarkayla Cobb, Hogan’s case manager at Covenant House. “His goals were very limited.”

Hogan, however, is proof that “your circumstances don’t define who you become,” Cobb said.

Cobb was immediately struck by Hogan’s keen intellect and artistic abilities. He won an art prize at his school and is particularly strong in humanities, his teachers said.

“He’s talented,” Cobb said.

She, along with other Covenant House staff and Hogan teachers, saw his potential. They encouraged him to stay in school rather than drop out and get a job – something he strongly considered doing. He finally listened.

“He was always there. He didn’t miss a day of school,” said Robert McGriff, an English teacher at Walter L. Cohen High School who has known Hogan for about three years.

Hogan was initially hesitant to tell anyone about his living situation.

“I didn’t really talk to people because I didn’t know how I would be seen,” Hogan said. “I was left alone.”

However, he confided in a few mentors, including McGriff.

“At first he didn’t want any help,” McGriff said, adding that he helped Hogan in any way he could, such as making sure he had basic necessities.

“He didn’t let himself get defeated,” McGriff said. “He didn’t walk around with his head down. He adapted. »

Hogan graduated from high school with a 3.96 GPA and received a full scholarship to a four-year program at Xavier University of Louisiana, where he plans to study graphic design and art.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

Hogan created a GoFundMe page to help cover costs for housing, food and other basic needs. He is one of four black valedictorians in New Orleans, television news station WDSU reported.

“Elijah is a beautiful reflection of what happens when Black children in New Orleans get the services and opportunities they deserve. They shine,” said Jerel Bryant, chief executive officer of Collegiate Academies, a nonprofit public charter school network that operates Walter L. Cohen High School. “That’s what he does and we’re incredibly proud of him.”

Bryant said more than 95 percent of the school’s students are economically disadvantaged and 18 of the school’s 375 students are either homeless or in an insecure housing situation.

Hogan’s path could easily have taken a different direction.

“There are a lot of people in this situation who could have ended up on the streets,” McGriff said. “I’ve seen him grow tremendously.”

“He’s ready to go to college and I’m very excited about it,” he added.

Hogan said he couldn’t have done it without the unwavering attention of staff at his school and Covenant House.

“I achieved this mainly because of the support given to me,” he said.

He hopes to one day pay it forward and inspire others to overcome difficulties. Sharing his story, he says, is one way to do that.

“Don’t let your limitations get you down,” he said. “Use them to move forward without any restraint.”

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