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Walter L. Cohen High School principal Rhonda Dale poses with valedictorian Elijah Hogan. (Courtesy Kewe Ukpolo via CNN Newsource)

US: Homeless teen is valedictorian

June 2, 2024

By Ashley R. Williams, CNN

(CNN) — A Louisiana high school senior experiencing homelessness recently graduated at the top of his class with the highest-earned GPA.

Elijah Hogan, 19, was named valedictorian of Walter L. Cohen High School in New Orleans and graduated May 24 with a 3.93 GPA, he told CNN.

Hogan, who became homeless a year and a half ago, says he was in disbelief when he learned of his academic achievement.

“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,” said Hogan, who was born in New Orleans and raised mostly in Houston.

Hogan was one of four Black male students who achieved valedictorian status at their New Orleans schools this spring, CNN affiliate WDSU reported.

Hogan, who previously lived with his grandmother since he was 11, says he became homeless after the lease on his grandmother’s house expired when the homeowner decided to sell the property.

He and his grandmother were given 30 days to vacate the house, according to Hogan.

“From there, I made the executive decision to live on my own to lighten my grandmother’s burden,” Hogan told CNN.

While his grandmother went to live in a care home for the elderly, Hogan was left without permanent housing.

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

Walter L. Cohen High School principal Rhonda Dale poses with valedictorian Elijah Hogan. (Courtesy Kewe Ukpolo via CNN Newsource)

The program allows young people to stay at the shelter up to 24 months rent-free, giving them an opportunity to focus on education or to save money while working, Covenant House New Orleans chief executive officer Rheneisha Robertson told CNN.

“It really allows them to get stable and identify more permanent, stable housing,” said Robertson, who added the homeless shelter had five other high school graduates this year.

Hogan, who addressed his graduating class with an uplifting valedictorian speech last week, said dealing with homelessness while completing his education was challenging but he found support from the homeless shelter’s employees and his high school’s staff.

“As time went on, I started to open up to people over at Covenant House as well as Cohen, people were there to support me and give me a guiding hand,” Hogan said. “Without them, I wouldn’t (have) become who I am today.”

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.”

Hogan, who lost his mother just before he turned 12, says her death encouraged him to push forward with his education for his grandmother’s sake.

“I know that’s what (my mother) would have wanted,” he said.

Hogan plans to attend Xavier University in New Orleansin the fall to study graphic design and has been granted a scholarship to cover his tuition fees, he says.

“Elijah’s accomplishments are worth celebrating. We know that they are a product of his character and the choices he made day after day to pursue his dreams,” Jerel Bryant, chief executive officer of Collegiate Academies, which operates Hogan’s former high school, said in a statement.

“His success is also a testament to how capable and excellent our Black youth are, in New Orleans and across this country,” Bryant said.

Hogan offered these words of encouragement for other young people:

“To any race, no matter what color or accent you have, you are your own guiding light,” Hogan said. “You are your own storybook that you write. Let yourself be the pen that you write on paper.”

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