JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Griffin Furlong, lovingly known in social media as the "homeless valedictorian," graduated at ceremonies that started at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Furlong graduated at the top of his class with a 4.65 grade point average at First Coast High and during his valedictorian speech he shared his past.
Furlong knows something about challenge and success with his plight of being homeless and an academic achiever getting national attention.
"I woke up the other day and saw myself on national television," said Furlong who shared his story with First Coast News two weeks ago and since then it has generated a lot of interest.
Furlong lost his mother to cancer at a young age and lived in a homeless shelter for two years. He says his life has been all about bouncing around now living with his grandmother now after having lived briefly with the parents of his girlfriend.
Furlong shared his story of being homeless with the 500-plus graduate of First Coast High, most who knew little of his struggles to get to this point. He was in a homeless shelter when he was 7 years old and was there for two years.
An emotional and touching speech from a young man whose story is inspiring so many across the country. Mike Lyons, First Coast News
" I can't even count the number of sleepless nights I spent alone on a cold plastic mattress, I cried..internally hoping that my life would soon wash away so I would not have to bear the hardships of a seemingly evil world."
Furlong said he was able to accomplish what he did by having a purpose. He told the crowd he made the grades he did because he had nothing to lose. He also said he did not have a normal life as folks thought he did, at one time he was lost with nothing.
" I never gave up, no matter how bad I wanted to. To everyone sitting here before me Class of 2014, do not live a life without purpose. Deep down inside you know you have something to show.,so whether you realize it or not... never make excuses, especially if you have a loving family able to give you what you need and want. "
He wrapped up his address by urging his fellow graduates to hold on to a purpose in life as he did.
" No one is going to hand you success. You have to go out and get it yourself. Don't dwell in the past, use it as motivation for your future. It is amazing what you can do with your life when you have motivation, ambition, and most importantly , a purpose. Thank You. "
Furlong was given a standing ovation by his fellow students and those in the crowd. Then late he was the first in his class to receive his diploma, as the valedictorian at First Coast High, Class of 2014.
Before today, his story got him national attention and many people called and offered to help.
"People from California contacting me, people from Hawaii, it's really been crazy," said Furlong.
A gofundme.com account has generated pledges of $68,000 with nearly 1200 people in ten days offering to help Griffin with college expenses.
Griffin is still waiting on scholarships with his plans to study civil engineering at Florida State.
"Never give up is my main thing - just have a purpose in life," said Griffin.
The 18 year-old will graduate tops in his class from First Coast High and next week will give the valedictorian speech to his classmates at graduation ceremonies.