Once-homeless Toronto woman raises more than $60K for Harvard tuition
Published Thursday, April 16, 2015 1:21PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 17, 2015 6:46AM EDT
A once-homeless Toronto woman has raised more than $60,000 with an online campaign created to fund a year of Ivy League education.
Toni Morgan, 32, is a high school drop-out who spent four years bouncing between shelters in the city after leaving her unstable home.
She was kicked out of high school several times for bad grades and poor attendance before deciding to drop out.
The last time she left high school, she told CTVNews.ca on Thursday, her vice-principal told her she'd never earn a university degree.
Morgan settled at the Young Women's Christian Association shelter, and decided it was her "once and for all chance" to get an education and turn her life around.
She worked odd jobs as she saved enough cash to prove that vice-principal wrong. Morgan enrolled at Ryerson University, and soon earned a Bachelor of Arts, specializing in equity and diversity studies.
While completing her degree, she said she became fascinated with the education system. She said she felt marginalized in high school, and wondered why she had to fight for an education.
"Once you're outside of the education system, you learn a lot about what's wrong," she said.
Morgan said she thinks part of the issue is a lack of resources, but added that existing resources could be restructured to encourage students who struggled like she did.
She wanted to learn more about behaviours that lead those like her vice-principal to make students feel insignificant.
"Where does a person learn to look at a 17-year-old and say, 'You won't amount to anything?'" she asked.
Morgan, who currently works as a non-profit programming director, said she understands how many of the young people and women she works with struggle to find the right path.
"Young people are told, 'This is as far as you can go,' and decide they aren't going to try."
Her advice to those she works with is to "swing for the fences and hope for a home run."
Morgan's version of a home run was going to one of the most prestigious post-secondary schools in the world: Harvard University.
Morgan said she hopes to bring a new perspective to the education system she once left, so she decided to apply to the elite school's Masters of Education program, with a focus on non-traditional and alternative education.
She got an envelope from the school in March, but waited several days to open it.
"I initially thought it was bad news," she said. When she worked up the courage, she said she was shocked to find out that she'd been accepted.
She said she cried when she read the letter. "It felt unreal."
But once the admission sunk in, Morgan realized she was facing further adversity. The acceptance came with a hefty US$71,000 price tag, nearly $87,000 Canadian.
Tuition, mandatory health insurance and other student fees for the one-year program added up to $50,000. Morgan budgeted an additional $21,000 for living expenses.
After applying for a student visa, she realized she only had two months to raise the money. In order to be given a visa, she had to have $71,000 by May 15.
Morgan turned to the Internet for help, launching a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe.com called "Harvard Bound." She shared her story, hoping others would sympathize and help her reach her goal.
She set a goal of $50,000, and had raised more than $60,000 as of Friday morning. Well past her goal, she said any extra money will help cover the rest of her expenses.
"It's overwhelming. It's amazing," Morgan said.
Morgan will start the one-year Master's program at Harvard in the fall.
"In the long run, I want to combine my policy and strategy background with my education," Morgan wrote on the GoFundMe page.
"This will allow me to support alternative education organizations that focus on the arts, digital learning and economic development in a meaningful way."