Sunday morning at Booker T. Washington High School, hundreds of seniors lined up for an academic awards ceremony. All the students are smart and special, but maybe none more so than Fred Dukes.
With a 3.0 grade point average and a score of 24 out of 36 on the ACT test, teachers said he's plenty smart. And he accomplished all that despite being homeless and without family support.
"I am very proud I stuck with it and didn't give up," said Dukes.
Two years ago, Duke's stepmother moved back to South Carolina for a job, but he stayed behind. But he said that meant going about life alone and staying with any friend he could.
"Me and my friend Malcolm kind of compromised to where I could lay my head on his back porch if I needed to," said Dukes.
But last Christmas, Dukes said things hit rock bottom. He ended up staying at a homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta and nearly lost everything.
"I got into an altercation with a couple other people that were staying here and they wanted to take my stuff, my belongings," said Dukes.
Dukes sold candy in the hallways of school to make money - until he was caught. One night he went to meet a friend for a job, but things went bad. Duke's meeting went longer than expected and as a result, he said he missed the last train at the Lindbergh Marta Station. With no money for a cab and no one to call, he said he did what he had to do. He walked to Oakland City in southwest Atlanta. That's a 10-mile walk that started at midnight and ended at 3:30 a.m. But he made it to class on time.
"It's a lot. It's a lot for an adult, and then to see a child do this? Yes it's a lot," said Leyanna Lloyd, Dukes' science teacher.
"He would just tell me stuff and I would sit there with a straight face and then I would end up crying after he left because he has been through a lot, but he never said he was giving up, ever," said Lloyd.
Dukes said friendship help him make it through.
"Me and Fred had similar things going on at home that's bad and good so we could help each other out because we can understand each other's issues," said Malcolm Candidate, Dukes' friend.
Wednesday evening, the Atlanta Civic Center was packed for the Booker T. Washington High School graduation. At about 7 p.m., Dukes received his diploma.
"Oh my God! I finally made it. My message to people is do not let your situation make you who you are. Like I said before, it is the decisions that you make that make you the person you are," Dukes said.
Dukes said in the fall he will attend Coker College in South Carolina. He plans to major in business.
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