After losing his mother at a young age, being abandoned by his family, and living on the streets for three years, a Texas student reportedly graduated at the top of his class with a full scholarship.
Liyjon DeSilva, a 20-year-old student from Houston, Texas, was only 5 years old when his mother passed away. He lived with several family members until he was eventually abandoned to live on his own.
"I wanted to be able to live like a normal kid, you know," he told KTRK.
DeSilva suffered through "child abuse, […] family using drug abuse" and "some of the worst places to live," he explained in a Houston ISD interview. Despite all the obstacles he endured, he constantly persevered.
"I felt like I was dying, when really, I was preparing for something greater," he said.
DeSilva was homeless for three years. He slept at various places throughout the area, such as parks, parking lots, buses, and pools.
"I don't like to refer to it as bad or that it was terrible because I learned a lot," he told KTRK. "I learned a lot of survival skills. Life became a bit easier."
Principal Jonathan N. Trinh said DeSilva stands out among the students he has worked with in his 23-year career.
"The next thing I know we have one of our counselors who calls and says there's a report," Trinh recalled. "We found him sleeping in the park."
Trinh worked with various counselors and social workers in order to find DeSilva a home, including spending his own money on temporary lodging for the determined student. Jessica Smith, who was working for "Communities in Schools," also played a significant to help get DeSilva a rent-free apartment to call his own.
"He calls me his mother figure," Smith said. "Liyjon has some very special inner resources that make him really driven and strong."
DeSilva was nominated for and won the Posse Scholarship, which granted him a full ride to Carleton College. Smith has also raised over $18,000 via the crowdfunding site Tilt as of July 5 to help him start this new chapter in his life.
"If you’re still alive, no matter how hard life has been to you, you can still do it," DeSilva told KTRK. "That’s worth more than any amount of money, any amount of stature or merit."