A homeless teen graduated at the top of his class and earned a full scholarship to college

Liyjon DeSilvaTilt/Jessica SmithKeep it up, Liyjon.

High school can be tough, but one formerly homeless Texas student didn’t let anything stop him from graduating.

When Liyjon DeSilva was five, his mother died, and he was passed around by family members until he was left homeless.

For three years DeSilva lived on the street and kept it a secret, but he continued to go to school.

Jessica Smith, a social worker, was working as the project manager for Communities in Schools Houston at Robert E. Lee High School, now known as Margaret Long Wisdom High School, when she met DeSilva during his sophomore year.

They had talked about his situation, but he initially didn’t want anyone to know, Smith told INSIDER.

Through Communities in Schools, a dropout prevention organisation, she helped him stay on top of his schoolwork, talked with him, and provided him with clothing and food.

Diyjon desilvaJessica SmithLiyjon refers to Jessica Smith as his mother figure.

“I did make reports to Child Protective Services, but because of his age and [the fact that] he wasn’t being abused and he wasn’t considered a runaway and he was coming to school, there was nothing that could be done. I knew that he was ok … but it got to a point where we needed to get him settled, and he agreed.”

The community rallied around him and helped him find a place to live. 

Smith spoke to the school’s principal, Jonathan N. Trinh, and he paid out of pocket to help DeSilva get settled in an extended-stay hotel near the school for 30 days while they figured out a plan.

Soon after, Smith took to Facebook in search of a home for him, and a friend donated her garage apartment. Another friend began to drive him to school.

“We rallied around him,” Smith said. “He was able to eat more, as well as study and focus more, and that’s where the whole nomination thing worked out.”

In May, he graduated at the top of his class, with a 3.67 GPA, and earned a full-ride scholarship to college.

Liyjon DeSilvaJessica SmithFrom graduation to college student.

DeSilva was nominated for the Posse Foundation
‘s scholarship. He went through an extensive application process and was one of 10 students selected by Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, to attend on a full scholarship.
“I have seen so many kids give up and drop out, but [DeSilva] kept pushing and working hard … he’s a very special person. You know that when you meet him,” she said.

Though his education is paid for, Smith started a fundraising page to help cover costs of a laptop, clothing, and other college necessities, as well as flights for both her and DeSilva so she could help move him in. The have exceeded their goal, and now, when he starts school in the fall, both Smith and her husband will be able to help move him in.

“I left the school and just took him with me to become a part of my family,” Smith said. “We’re so proud him.”

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