Philly Teen Who Used to Be Homeless Earns Full Ride to Harvard

Illustration for article titled Philly Teen Who Used to Be Homeless Earns Full Ride to Harvard
Screenshot: WHYY-TV

Richard “Tre” Jenkins was always a bookworm. It was a trait that used to get him teased, with bullies calling him “Harvard.”


Who knew that bullies could speak life into something?

As it turns out, Richard is indeed Harvard, or at least Harvard-bound, earning a full scholarship to the prestigious university.

But life hasn’t always been a fairy tale for Richard, who experienced a period of homelessness while growing up. Jenkins recalled feeling embarrassed by his circumstances.

“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. 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,” Richard told WHYY-TV. “But 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.”

The teen toughed it out and worked hard at school even as he had to grapple with migraines that often left him hospitalized for weeks at a time.

“My migraines started in the eighth grade because of all of the stress I was dealing with at the time. There was a lot of pressure to get into high school and succeed. And then my dad had a heart attack. In the summer of the eighth grade it got really bad,” he said. “I got hospitalized; they put me on every medicine they had. But I was eventually able to fight through it and get my work done, because at the end of the day, that was what was the most important to me.”


He was honored for his work ethic and was selected as valedictorian for his school’s graduation. The teen attends Girard College, a boarding school in North Philly that is a full-scholarship prep school for disadvantaged students.

Still, when it came to applying to Harvard, it turns out that the brilliant young man almost didn’t go for it, he revealed to the Philadelphia Inquirer.


“There’s a lot of places I didn’t think possible—including Harvard,” he admitted. “I don’t know; I guess I just thought: ‘I’m black. And I’m not that smart.’”

Turns out, Richard is more than smart enough, and he got the good news while on a school trip in Paris. “It’s been such a crazy road here,” he said.


“We were in Paris for a spring break educational trip,” he told WHYY. “I set the tabs on my computer for all the Ivy League schools I had applied to. I checked Penn; I got wait-listed. I checked Yale and I got denied. In the back of my head I’m already thinking, ‘OK, 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.’ I was talking to my girlfriend; I threw my phone!”

Richard will be studying computer science, with hopes of creating a “more intuitive Siri.”


And as for the bullies ...

Well, who’s laughing now?

News Editor at The Root, animation nerd, soca junkie, yogi



“Looks like being homeless worked out for him”

- Ghost of Barbara Bush