Formerly homeless teen beat the odds and graduated high school as the class valedictorian

By | February 14, 2023

Despite being homeless multiple times, this Florida teenager managed to graduate at the top of his class at Philip Randolph Career Academy in Jacksonville. He now plans to attend Valdosta State Univ in Georgia this fall.

Excelling in academics is not easy, especially for someone who’s going through major life hurdles. That’s exactly what Martin Folsom endured. He and his mother, Melva, have been in and out of homelessness since he was a kid.

Despite all these difficulties, he was able to focus on his studies. And his efforts proved worth it because he was recently named the valedictorian of his class.

Martin had been waiting for the moment he would put on his cap and gown, and it finally came. Although his walk across the stage has been postponed because of the current pandemic, he’s grateful that he was able to reach this point in his life.

“It kind of gave me a jolt in my chest a little bit, so it was a good feeling,” he said in a video interview shared by KTRK. “It means a lot and it gives me a sense of all I’ve done and all I have accomplished was worth it.”

Martin and his mom first became homeless when they ran away from Melva’s ex-husband, who has since been sentenced to 40 years in jail for murder, according to a report from WJXT.

Within two years, the mother and son kept moving from one shelter to another across five states before settling in Jacksonville. They become homeless twice while Martin was in high school – once while he was in 9th grade and again in 11th grade. During that time, Melva desperately searched everywhere for a place to stay.

“Martin and I were in downtown McDonald’s and literally had nowhere to go,” she told WJXT. “I was on the phone calling people, calling organizations, and by the grace of God, we got into a shelter that day.”

Living in such a precarious situation didn’t take Martin’s focus off his top priority – his education.

“I never thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ or ‘I’m done with this,’” he explained. “It’s always been, ‘Well, it happened again and I’ve gotta keep myself up and keep moving forward.’”

Martin knew that there were a lot of other smart people at his school, and if he gave up, he understood that his title could be easily taken away from him.

He had such a strong heart because his mom taught him the value of dedication and perseverance, even when times were hard.

“I just constantly kept pushing him to be better, and not necessarily to be No. 1, but to be better,” Melva said.

Martin, who served as class president from freshman year through senior year, plans to attend Valdosta State Univ this fall. He hopes to work for the FBI after earning his degree. He credits his mother for his success.

“She has been the person that whenever I did end up getting upset, or whenever I needed somebody to laugh with or talk to, she was always there, she was always encouraging me,” he said.

Martin’s advice for the students who may be going through similar struggles is to “dream big.”

“Think about something that you really want and think about how good you’re gonna feel once you accomplish that,” he said.

As far as Martin knows, he is the first person in their family to earn a college degree. For sure, he’s made them all proud, especially his mom!

This teen beat the odds and didn’t let the trials of life stop him from pursuing his dreams. He is certainly an inspiration!

Watch the video below to learn more about Martin’s story.

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