Today — That Rashema Melson graduated at the top of her class surprised few at her Washington, D.C., high school. But that she maintained a 4.0 grade point average and is heading to one the nation’s top universities while living in a homeless shelter never fails to amaze anyone.

“Valedictorian. Full academic scholarship to Georgetown. It doesn’t get any better than that,” said her principal Ian Roberts. “And her story is truly an inspiration.”

Eighteen-year-old Melson knows that story seems improbable for someone growing up in one of the harshest parts of the nation’s capital.

“Life is not fair, but despite that harsh reality, you must keep striving for success through the pain, tears and feeling of lost hope,” she said in a commencement speech Wednesday at Anacostia High School.

Melson knows about unfair odds. Her father was killed before her first birthday, and for the past several years, she has lived with her mother and three siblings in a homeless shelter that once used to be a hospital. Melson said she considers the shelter a place to live, but not a home.

“There’s no furniture, no refrigerator. It’s just a place to be content with until you get to where you want to be,” she told NBC affiliate WRC.

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