While many Wake County students waited anxiously to find out where they would be accepted to college, Megan Faircloth didn’t know where she would sleep at night.
For most of her junior year and the start of her senior year, Faircloth and her family were homeless.
“At one point, we were in a homeless shelter and then we were staying with relatives a little while, and then we lived in our car,” said Faircloth, 17.
On Monday, Faircloth will graduate at the top of her class from East Wake High School, with a 5.25 GPA. This fall, she will attend Stanford University, where she plans to major in English and minor in education.
Few people at East Wake knew about Faircloth’s experience until she shared her story during a senior awards banquet Friday. She said it felt good to talk about what she had been through.
Faircloth’s family was evicted from their Wendell home in November 2015 after personal and financial troubles.
The family would spend hours each day trying to find enough money for a place to sleep. Faircloth was juggling seven AP classes, and she didn’t want her grades to slip.
“We’d be running around all day and then we’d get a motel room at 12 o’clock at night, and then I’d have to start my homework,” Faircloth said. “It was physically exhausting. We didn’t have much money for food or anything, either.”
When a motel was out of the question, Faircloth would sleep in the car with her mother and two siblings. They looked for areas to park where they thought they’d be safe. The car’s windows were jammed and wouldn’t roll up.
“It was really cold in the wintertime and then as it started heating up, it got really hot,” Faircloth said.
Last July, they moved in with one of Faircloth’s siblings, but they too faced eviction a month later.
Faircloth had unusual concerns for someone trying to go to college – she didn’t have an address when she sent in her applications.
In October, the family moved to a home in Wendell where they continue to live.
Stacey Alston, principal at East Wake High, knew Faircloth was going to share her story at the banquet. But hearing it was a different matter.
“I’m the tough one of the group,” he said. “I don’t drop tears easy.
“As principal, I know the challenges she’s gone through. But for her to put it together so eloquently, when you actually hear it from the child, the things they overcame. ... She could have easily said, ‘You know, I’m not doing this anymore.’ ”
Faircloth, who describes herself as reserved, said it was tough to speak in front of her classmates.
“When I got done with the speech, I walked off the stage and looked to the side and everyone was standing and clapping,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I didn’t think it would have that much an effect on people.
“Afterward, kids came up to me and said they had gone through similar things and that I had inspired them.”
More than 50 students at East Wake are homeless, according to school leaders. The school began collecting hygiene items several years ago and has since formed a food pantry for students in need.
Local churches help support the cause, Alston said.
Others can learn from Faircloth, said Melissa Bell, East Wake’s student assistance program counselor who works with students in crisis.
“If we can bottle up what Megan’s got – and she’s not the only one, she’s just excelled at it – and give that to all the children that go through tough times, that would be awesome,” Bell said.
Faircloth’s mother, Melba Faircloth, said homelessness was horrible.
“But when you hit rock bottom,” she said, “the only place you can go is up, right?”
She described her daughter as tough.
“I think she can do anything she wanted to do,” Melba Faircloth said. “She has a lot of determination, and a lot of people would’ve given up, but not her. She’s a fighter. She’s always been a fighter like that.”
Faircloth drew inspiration from “Unbroken,” the story of Olympic track star Louis Zamperini, who survived 47 days on a raft at sea after a plane crash and more than two years as a prisoner of war during World War II.
She said she viewed her high school career, which ended with a final exam Monday, as a haven from her personal troubles.
“When I got to school, it was like a relief and I felt I could totally dedicate myself to it,” she said. “My teachers treated me as though I was equal with the other students. I feel like I wouldn’t be here if not for them. They didn’t care where I lived. I was only judged by the quality of the work I was putting in. It was like an escape.”
Faircloth turned down scholarships from UNC, Virginia and other schools to attend Stanford. The private university in California offered her nearly a full four-year scholarship.
She said she wants to study English and education because she was inspired by the teachers who helped through two rough years.
“Getting into Stanford was a gift but wasn’t anything I did entirely by myself,” Faircloth said. “My teachers helped me, so I want to give it back and give it to other people. There’s a bunch of kids ... who are going through similar stuff and I feel like I learned so much, I want to use it for a purpose. I don’t want to have gone through all this for nothing.”
She said she wouldn’t change anything about her experiences.
“I’m glad that I went through it, because it changed how I view happiness,” Faircloth said. “And it changed my view on myself and other people.”