How a Homeless Teen Became a Yale Medical Student

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For most teens, the stress of maintaining a high grade-point average is enough of a challenge. At the end of the day, however, they can return home from school without having to worry about where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep that night.  

But for some, hardships associated with homelessness are experienced on a daily basis in addition to their academic challenges. According to The Voices of Youth Count from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, 1 in 10 young adults ages 18 to 25, and at least 1 in 30 adolescents ages 13 to 17, experience some form of homelessness unaccompanied by a parent or guardian over the course of a year.

Some people show us that it’s still possible to achieve greatness even when limited by homelessness, however. One such woman is Chelesa Fearce, whose desire to help others motivated her to go above and beyond what most students only dream of.  

Fearce is currently a Yale medical student with a focus on psychiatry. She’s a graduate of Spelman College and was also valedictorian of her senior high school class. Her experience with homelessness began when she was in elementary school, when her mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Fearce’s family spent years without a permanent home as her mother struggled with medical expenses and being a single mom of four. 

It opened Fearce’s eyes to how mental health and financial issues can impact families, and this influenced her career path later on. “I am interested in working with people experiencing homelessness, specifically those with psychiatric issues,” Fearce tells CircleAround. “I hope to bring some of my experiences and knowledge of health care systems together to create a safe place for those with mental health issues to come if the need ever arises.” 

In an interview for People, Fearce explained how she took both high school and college courses, making the most of whatever living situation she was in to maintain her 4.5 grade-point average. She sometimes subsisted on only one meal a day.

Despite her academic success, however, Fearce knew there would be additional challenges that came with achieving her future goals. “I learned that the medical school process is very expensive, which can be prohibitive to students who come from a low-income background,” she tells CircleAround. “The way America handles homelessness and mental health is questionable in comparison to other affluent countries.”

Her incredible story, ambition, and hard work impressed many who wanted to see her succeed. Both Spelman College and Yale provided her with full scholarships and living stipends to help support her career endeavors. 

Photo Credit: Chelsea Fearce

As she continues to develop her career path and skills, Fearce hopes her story will be an example for others struggling with the same challenges she faced. 

“The biggest lesson I learned was not to underestimate myself because of the value that my experiences bring to table,” she tells CircleAround. According to a profile in Face2Face Africa, the Clayton County school system, where she graduated, has begun providing scholarship opportunities for homeless students like Fearce — those with big dreams, good academic standing, and limitless potential.

Fearce is looking forward to starting her Ph.D. in chemistry in 2022. “[It] probably does not sound interesting to most people, but I miss the lab and the smell of esters and ethers being used to conjure up compounds that can one day, hopefully, be used in clinical practice,” she explains.

“I envision a future where those who have mental health issues are not stigmatized and I envision an America that has more social safety nets,” she concludes. “I know that both of those visions start with me.” 

Tags: Mental Health

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

CircleAround will make financial distributions to benefit current Girl Scouts: the next generation of trailblazers who will CircleAround after us. So CircleAround for inspiration, and CircleAround the leaders of tomorrow. CircleAround is owned by One GS Media, a subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA.

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