NORTH PHILADELPHIA (WTXF) - A Philadelphia teen credits his love of books for helping him get where he is today. He was homeless and bullied. He says focusing on academics helped him escape reality.
FOX 29's Dawn Timmeney has the story.
18-year-old Richard Jenkins is a senior at Girard College—a full scholarship boarding school in North Philadelphia. Impressive doesn't even begin to describe this young man who is his class valedictorian. It's been a long, hard road.
"Around 6th grade, I was homeless and living in a shelter in Germantown called the Wayne House, actually. Basically, I got tired of being poor, tired of feeling like I had to hide that."
Richard remembers lying to a friend about where he lived and feeling awful afterwards.
"I really shouldn't have had to feel ashamed that I'm in this living condition and that kind of woke me up, yeah, this needs to change."
That is when the then 6th grader decided he wanted a better life and made a conscious decision to focus on academics.
"That was the thing I saw I was good at. Some people turn to sports, basketball, football. I was like let's try to get a full academic scholarship to college."
Richard has always loved learning so school came easy, but he was often bullied for being a bookworm.
"I was always the one quick to answer and other people didn't like that, so I got picked on a lot. I actually used to get called Harvard when I was younger, which is funny now."
That is exactly where the 18-year-old will go to school next fall—Harvard University on a full scholarship—take that bullies.
He says Harvard wasn't on his radar initially, but remembers getting a promotion email from them his junior year.
"That email really changed everything for me," he said. "I found out Harvard has a great program if families make under $65,000 a year, so I'm like okay all I got to do it get in—game on."
His essay called 'The Boy Who Slays Dragons delved deep into the obstacles he'd overcome.
Richard learned he'd been accepted while on a school trip to Paris with teacher Bill Gallagher.
"Wow, when we were told he did get accepted to Harvard, it was a really great celebration," teacher Bill Gallagher said.
Richard says his mom always pushed him to be the best he can be and it paid off.
"My mom means the world to me because she instilled hard work in me from when I was younger," he said. "She always knew I was gonna get into Harvard."
Richard says he's had lots of influences in his life—both positive and negative—but kept his eye on the prize. He's extremely grateful for those who helped him along the way.
"I'd just like to say thank you. It's crazy when I am. It's crazy where I'm going and I couldn't have done it alone," he said.
Richard wants to study artificial intelligence and hopes to someday have his own company.
A GoFundMe has been setup to help cover school supplies not covered by his financial aid if you wish to donate, please click here.