When David Boone’s family split up after being terrorized by gang members, the teen found himself living on the streets. That was all before a series of loving adults stepped in to support his dream of going to college.  

When I was 14, some boys in my East Cleveland neighborhood challenged me to become part of their gang. I said no because I knew it was dangerous. But after my sister’s boyfriend had a conflict with the gang, the danger I’d been avoiding ended up on my doorstep. One summer night while Mom was at work, the gang members drove by our house and fired a round of shots. That night marked the end of life as I’d known it.

My family dispersed immediately that evening: Mom and my four siblings went to a friend’s home; because there was a cat there (I’m severely allergic), I went to stay with my dad, who lived in Cleveland. He eventually moved to Charlotte, N.C., so I then stayed with a cousin before moving on to be with my grandmother. Though she did her best to take care of me, she didn’t have the resources to provide for a teen, and I didn’t want to be a burden. So after six weeks in her home, I began spending more time outdoors. That’s how I gradually became homeless with only a few possessions to my name—a black Adidas duffel bag stuffed with two pairs of jeans, some T-shirts and underwear, a couple of school shirts and one pair of khakis.

As I settled onto the streets, I first tried to sleep on park benches at night, but I was too paranoid that something would happen to me; when a raccoon appeared out of the bushes and hissed at me, I knew I needed a better plan. So I put a system in place: I’d stay up all night, then I’d sleep during the day, turning my duffel bag into a “pillow” in the park. In public restrooms, I freshened up with soap and paper towels. When I would talk to my mother, I’d reassured her that I was fine because I didn’t want her to worry.

Around Thanksgiving of that year, I got a call from my middle school nurse; she had retired and just wanted to check on me. She sensed I was in trouble and invited me to stay with her and her husband. I did—but when she became ill a few months later, once again, I had to move on. By then, my high school principal had discovered my situation, and he invited me to live with his family. I stayed with Principal McClellan until I moved into my current home—with my school friend Eric and his mother, Shinelle, who’ve become my second family.

In elementary and middle school, I’d been a horrible student. I didn’t feel challenged by the coursework, so I stopped trying and earned C’s and D’s. But after I was accepted into MC2 STEM, a magnet high school that prepares students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math, I became excited about learning. The school’s project-based approach fit my personality; I’ve always been a tinkerer, and when I was 7, I took apart a TV and put it back together almost perfectly. Though I lived on the streets during part of high school, I became an A student.
As a junior, I began considering college. My principal had given me Ron Suskind’s book A Hope in the Unseen, about Cedric Jennings’ journey from the inner city to the Ivy League. That story gave me the courage not only to apply to college, but also to aim for academically rigorous schools. With a lot of support from Minds Matter, a weekend mentoring program I attended, I applied to 23 schools in total—universities as far away as Harvard, Yale and Princeton and as close as Cleveland State. I had my heart set on MIT, which is why my confidence was shaken when I didn’t get in.
But my story doesn’t end there. In March, I was accepted into Harvard University with a full scholarship. When I got the acceptance e-mail, I screamed, then called my mom and principal with the great news. “I’m so proud of you,” my principal said before offering me two words of wisdom I’ll always remember: “Stay grounded.”

In June, I graduated with a 3.8 GPA and as the salutatorian of my class. This fall, I will move onto Harvard’s campus in Cambridge, Mass. I plan to major in electrical engineering and computer science. My career dream is to start a tech company; my personal dream is to improve the lives of my family by helping them break the cycle of poverty. I also want to start a scholarship fund for those who are in situations more difficult than mine. With all that I’ve experienced, there has been a miracle: During my most challenging days, caring people have come along to lend me a hand. One day, I’d love to return to that favor.