Formerly Homeless Teen Graduates College, Makes Dean’s List

Black hat and yellow tassel of graduates placed on a wooden table - stock photo
Getty Images

Autumn Hope Johnson lived in poverty out of a yellow delivery truck. Ten years later, she graduated college on the Dean’s List with plans to go on to law school.

Johnson and her younger brother were two out of 16 million children living in poverty in the aftermath of the Great Recession, CBS News reported. Their mother died at a young age, and their father lost their Seminole County, Florida, house.

In 2011, they sat down for an interview with CBS News’s 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley when they were living out of a yellow delivery truck.

“It’s an adventure,” Johnson told Pelley at the time, back when her name was Arielle Metzger.

Johnson said it was not “really that much of an embarrassment,” even when other kids discovered their situation.

“I mean, it’s only life. You do what you need to do, right?” she told Pelley.

Johnson said that after that 60 Minutes segment aired, people wanted to help.

The president of Stetson University was one of those people, who noticed Johnson wearing a second-hand Stetson sweatshirt in the segment and wanted to offer her a full ride to the university.

“It was incredible. And it — honestly, it changed my life,” Johnson said.

But she still had to get accepted to the university. After her father lost custody of her, she bounced around several foster homes and nearly gave up. It was not until this one foster family who inspired her to get back in touch with Stetson at age 17 did she find hope again.

She was accepted and “totally blended in with the crowd,” according to Johnson.

“That’s how I wanted it. I mean, a part of me did want to update the world that I finally made it and I was here, but at the same time, like, I just wanted to be a normal kid,” she said.

But in her junior year, one of her mentors, Professor Rajni Shankar-Brown, introduced that familiar 60 Minutes report and invited Autumn to share her story.

“It was amazing — just because it took so much strength for Autumn to have to come out, right, and to have to share that story, and to be vulnerable in front of hundreds of people,” Shankar-Brown said. “We had everybody in tears, but in a good way because hearts were opened.”

This month, nearly ten years since she moved into that truck, she is graduating from Stetson and is planning to continue on to law school.

Johnson learned that homelessness is not the same as hopelessness and that education is a ticket out of poverty. The same loving family that inspired Autumn to go to Stetson adopted her brother, Aaron, who is currently finishing up his sophomore year at Stetson.

.

Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.