Graduating as high school Valedictorian? Impressive. Doing so while homeless? Staggering.
Clearly Griffin Furlong is not your typical teen. Despite spending much of his high school career hungry and living on couches and depending on the kindness of friends and family, the Jacksonville, Fla., resident managed to graduate with a 4.65 GPA.
He, his older brother, and father have lived in shelters and rental homes. In April, they lost their home, and Griffin ended up staying with his girlfriend's family before moving to be with his aunt and uncle.
The 18-year-old spoke to NBC News about how the loss of his mother, who died of leukemia when he was 6, inspired him to live a life of purpose.
"Everyone thinks I try to make good grades because I’m smart. Not true. I perform the way that I do in the classroom because I have everything to lose," Griffin told his classmates at graduation. "I make the grades I do because I was once lost and had nothing.”
Griffin never missed a day of class or skipped an assignment, NBC News reported. His calculus teacher called him "an inspiration to everyone around him." He plans to study civil engineering at Florida State University this fall.
While college costs are daunting for everyone, they're even more so when you've grown up in circumstances like Furlong's. Fortunately, his friends have raised more than $91,000 to help pay for college expenses.
Furlong told ABC News that he felt he should have received a full scholarship. "All I have been able to land were grants. That is need-based, so it's pretty tough," he said.
While his story is one of triumph over adversity, there were plenty of dark moments. "There was one night, in a hotel, where I was laying the bed. I was starving. I didn't have anything to eat. And I had school. And I knew there was nothing I could do about it," he told ABC News. "I never want to live a life like that again."
Although his mother wasn't there to see him graduate, Griffin said he knows she would be proud that he never gave up. He writes that sentiment — "Never give up" — on the inside of his baseball cap, a reminder of what he's capable of achieving.
“Don’t dwell on the past. Use it as motivation for your future,” he told his fellow graduates. “It’s amazing what you can do with your life when you have motivation, ambition and most importantly, a purpose."
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).
- NBC News