This teen who grew up in homeless shelters earned a full ride to Harvard

Mighty Writers

This is the kind of story that movies are made out of — one that restores your hope in humanity, warms your heart and inspires you to never settle. Richard “Tre” Jenkins, a teen from Philadelphia, overcame all odds to do what, for most kids, seems nearly impossible: get accepted into Harvard University.

To put how tough getting into this prestigious Ivy League school is into perspective, its acceptance rate hit an all-time low last year. Out of 42,749 hopeful applicants, the school only offered admission to 1,962 students. That’s a 4.59 percent acceptance rate.

You see, Jenkins grew up homeless, living out of shelters. And he dealt with other difficult circumstances, including facing bullying for his intelligence and experiencing debilitating headaches that forced him to stay in the hospital for weeks at a time. Through all that adversity, “Tre” has proven that with hard work and perseverance nothing is impossible.

“In the sixth grade, one time I was walking from school with my friend, and he was asking me where I lived because his house was right around the corner from where we were,” Jenkins said during an interview with Philadelphia’s WHYY radio. “The shelter looked like a big house — it could have been a mansion. So I told him, ‘Yeah, that’s my house right there because I was so embarrassed to say I lived in a shelter.'”

It was in that moment that he said he decided to focus all his efforts on school. “That’s when I realized I’ve got to buckle in because I can’t have my potential kids going through what I’m going through now,” Jenkins said.

After being admitted to a nonprofit after-school program called the Mighty Writers, he thrived and eventually ended up applying to attend Girard College, a Philadelphia boarding school for gifted high school students from low-income single-parent families. While his hard work ultimately paid off, Jenkins’ health took a turn due to the stress caused by his intense desire to succeed. Soon, he started having bad headaches.

“My migraines started in the eighth grade because of all of the stress I was dealing with at the time,” Jenkins told WHYY. “There was a lot of pressure to get into high school and succeed. And then my dad had a heart attack.”

Despite these huge setbacks, he decided to fight through the pain and get his work done. As he explained, “At the end of the day, that was what was most important to me.”

Jenkins was on a school trip in Paris when acceptance letters were mailed out. After Penn waitlisted him and Yale denied him entry, he felt sure that Harvard would also reject him.

But you can see when he announced the news in the video below that Girard College posted to Instagram.

“In the back of my head I’m already thinking, ‘Okay, Harvard’s going to deny me too.’ And then I open up the Harvard tab and there’s a link to a video saying, ‘Welcome to the class of 2022,’” he told WHYY.

And not only did he get into Harvard, he got a full-ride scholarship too! Jenkins plans to major in computer science this coming fall. His goal: to create a better version of Siri or an intuitive virtual assistant.

Clearly, this kid can do anything he sets his sights on!

Good News, News

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About the Author
Chelsea Davis
Chelsea is a freelance journalist based in New York City whose passion revolves around traveling the world, immersing herself in foreign cultures, and of course, eating and drinking everything delicious. She covers all things food, drink and travel and is always up for an adventure, whether that means an adrenaline-pumping excursion or trying a new cuisine. Follow her on Instagram at @cheycheyfromthebay and keep up with her latest work at

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