A teenager who once became homeless graduated at the top of his class in Houston, Texas this weekend.
Derrick Ngo, 18, had a troubled childhood, growing up without a father and finding his mother in and out of jail through the years.
Ahead of his achievement, Ngo had been to 12 different schools.
At 15, he started living on his own with some help from his mother, but it was barely enough that he ended up homeless about two years later.
“My mother was heavily involved in gambling and often, me and my siblings would spend time at the casino with her so we’d be sitting at like the casino garage,” Ngo recalled his childhood to KTVU.
“We often didn’t have that much food. We didn’t have that much money. We didn’t have a stable source of income and that was one of my biggest struggles growing up — that lack of parental guidance.”
Determined to change his future, Ngo directed all his frustrations into his studies — efforts that eventually landed him as valedictorian of his class at Energy Institute High School.
“I realized that if I didn’t use school and education and the resources that were available to me, then there would be no way that I would get out of the situation I was in,” he said.
Ngo discovered EMERGE Fellowship, a nonprofit organization that works with school districts to find low-income, high-achieving students and prepare them to attend selective colleges and universities.
“If I didn’t EMERGE, I probably wouldn’t be attending a school like Harvard,” he told ABC 13. “EMERGE has given me access to test prep, resume development training. It’s given me an opportunity to go on a college tour.”
Ngo is grateful to his EMERGE mentor, Judy Le, for helping him prepare.
“My mentor’s name is Judy Le and she’s probably one of the most amazing people I’ve met,” he said. “Judy Le typically puts for me quite so much love and affection that I wish I had growing up.”
In December, Ngo learned that he had been accepted to Harvard, where he will be attending this fall.
“It was, at first, shock … My heart was racing, it was like, ‘Congratulations,’” he recalled. “I just got into Harvard.”
The young man attributes his success to discipline and laser-like focus on end goals.
“In having a vision, you have something that you’re working towards. And although it’s not real yet, it’s something that is going to be real one day.”
Ngo also applied to Columbia, Princeton and the University of Texas at Austin — top schools where he was also accepted.
He is deciding between philosophy and economics as a major.
Featured Images via YouTube / ABC13 Houston