A 20-year-old Texas man who was homeless and lived alone for three years as a teenager recently graduated at the top of his high school class and won a full scholarship to college, according to a report.
Abandoned and alone as he tried to navigate the already difficult world of high school, Liyjon DeSilva kept his living situation a secret for a time. He managed on his own, and still continued to thrive at school.
“What else am I supposed to do? It was either be that or a low life, I could have thrown everything away,” DeSilva told Houston-area television station KTRK. “I have a chance, why not just keep going?”
DeSilva’s mom died when he was just 5 years old, and after bouncing between relatives, his other family eventually abandoned him, he told the station. For three years, DeSilva lived on the streets, sleeping at parks or in parking lots.
He described it as a learning experience.
“I don’t like to refer to it as bad or that it was terrible, because I learned a lot. I learned a lot of survival skills. Life became a bit easier,” he said.
Yet, despite all the heartbreak he faced, DeSilva still showed up daily to Margaret Long Wisdom High School, formerly known as Robert E. Lee High School.
There, his secret eventually came out.
“The next thing I know, we have one of our counselors who calls and says there’s a report. We found him sleeping in the park,” said Jonathan N. Trinh, the high school’s principal.
Trinh, who described DeSilva as being in the top 5 percent of students at the school, was among those who reached out to aid the teen.
So was Jessica Smith, who was working for the nonprofit Communities in Schools of Houston. She helped DeSilva find a place to call home and has become a mother figure to him.
The young man graduated among the top of his class at the end of May, and won a full scholarship to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
While the scholarship covers most of the costs, Smith set up a crowdfunding site to help him buy the basics, including a computer.
DeSilva told the station he feels as if his best days are now ahead of him.
“There are too many possibilities to say that it’s over. If you’re looking at me, if you’re able to breathe, if you’re able to talk … there are too many possibilities to just waste,” he said. “You have a million dollars already. You just need to get to your bank account.”
The CNN Wire contributed to this story.