Student who doubled as high school's custodian now Harvard-bound

Dawn Loggins
N.C. student Dawn Loggins. Loggins spent much of high school homeless, but graduated June 7, 2012 near the top of her class and headed for Harvard.

(CBS News) LAWNDALE, N.C. - It's high school graduation season, and one young woman who is getting her diploma this evening is our choice for "most likely to succeed" -- because she already has, against some incredible odds.

At 6 this morning, long before her classmates were even awake, 18-year-old Dawn Loggins was already pushing a mop through her high school in Lawndale, N.C. -- where she also works as a custodian.

Dawn Loggins will appear on "CBS This Morning" this Saturday, June 9.

"I'll work two hours before school. And then I'll go to school. And then I'll come back and work two hours after school," Dawn said. Then homework when she gets home.

Home -- for Dawn -- is complicated. For years she moved around, sometimes squatting with her drug dealer stepfather and unemployed mother.

"Every time my stepdad would be arrested, we would have to move. Or my mom would use rent money to bail him out of jail," Dawn said. "There would be places where we lived where there wouldn't be power and water for extended periods of time."

But she always excelled at school. Then last summer Dawn returned from an academic summer camp to find her parents had abandoned her.

"I could never get in touch with them. Every time I tried calling them, it said, 'This number has been temporarily disconnected,'" she recalled.

They had moved to Tennessee.

Dawn moved from couch to couch until a counselor asked Sheryl Kolton, a school custodian, if she would take Dawn in. With a safe place to stay, Dawn flourished.

She was president of the photography club, the rock climbing club, the Spanish club.

Dawn Loggins
N.C. student Dawn Loggins. Loggins spent much of high school homeless and served as a school custodian both before and after classes. She graduated June 7, 2012 near the top of her class and headed for Harvard. CBS

Dawn: "I also started a community service project for soldiers in active duty service. National Honor Society, Beta Club, National Spanish Honor Society. ... Once I was given the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, I did it. I just took off!"

When it came time to apply to college, a friend urged her to aim high.

Now she's showing off a letter that reads, "You have been accepted to the Harvard University class of 2016."

"I think that what got me into Harvard was my drive," Dawn said. "And the fact that I've been able to do so much, with everything working against me. Imagine what I'll be able to do when things are actually going like they should."

Tonight, when Dawn graduates from Burns High School near the top of her class, it will be Sheryl's face she looks for in the crowd.

"I feel like Sheryl allowing me to stay there has been the best thing that has happened to me," Dawn says.

As for Sheryl, her view is that Dawn "doesn't owe me anything."

"I think that a lot of people would have done the same thing that I have done, if they knew the circumstances," she said.

Dawn plans to pay for school with a mix of financial aid, local scholarships, and the money she saved from cleaning classrooms.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.