“As a future physician, I will always be learning.”
These are the words of Chelesa Fearce, a homeless valedictorian who has beaten the odds to enter Yale University.
From studying by the stove light at extended-stay motels during her teen years to becoming a Spelman College graduate and medical researcher, 23-year-old Fearce is now studying at Yale School of Medicine.
The Atlanta woman became popular in 2013 with her story of victory over hardship. She finished at the top of her class at Clayton County’s Charles R. Drew High School with a 4.5-grade point average whilst homeless and living sometimes on one meal a day, reports AJC.
Her academic feat earned her a full scholarship to Spelman, where she graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry. She is currently a general chemistry tutor, as well as, a Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement Scholar (RISE), researching on the origin of prebiotic molecules.
Fearce, who is now an MD/PhD Candidate at Yale School of Medicine, recently told AJC: “Homelessness taught me how to work hard, always persevere and never let anything get in my way.”
As Fearce starts Yale School of Medicine with a full scholarship and stipend to cover living expenses, her long-term career goal is in psychiatry.
Having lived in homeless shelters and extended-stay motels with her single mom who was also dealing with joblessness and cancer, Fearce said those moments really helped show her resilience when she applied for college and medical school.
Whilst Fearce was valedictorian at Drew, her older sister, Chelsea Shelton, now 24 years, was also salutatorian at Atlanta’s Carver High School, with a 3.7 GPA. She had a full scholarship to the University of West Georgia and graduated with honours in 2016 with a degree in criminology.
She currently works at the state Department of Juvenile Justice as a corrections officer.
Their mother, Reenita Shepherd, is now a caretaker to a former homeless shelter director, as well as, a foster parent to four siblings.
Fearce’s story is kept alive on the home front by the Clayton County school system. According to AJC, “in her name, the system annually awards scholarships to local homeless students with good academic records.”
The scholarships, ranging from $250 to $1,000, come from donations collected in the county, which ranked first in the state in 2016-2017 in student homelessness with about 2,700 students.
Fearce’s advice to other students is that “they should remember why they got involved in their preferred area of study; this will allow them to continue pressing on when it gets tough.”