Homeless teen graduates from Midlands high school - WNEM TV 5

Homeless teen graduates from Midlands high school

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Kendal Benjamin receives his diploma Thursday afternoon. Kendal Benjamin receives his diploma Thursday afternoon.
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

In March, WIS shared with you the story of a remarkable young man. At the time, Kendal Benjamin was attending C.A. Johnson High School.

Many around Benjamin knew he was a dedicated student and hard worker. What they didn't know -- he was homeless.

In fact, he still is living in a Columbia area shelter today.

On Thursday, he became a high school graduate, crossing the stage at the Carolina Coliseum with his C.A. Johnson classmates.

"This is a new chapter in life," Benjamin said.

It's been a long journey for Kendal, and in his mind it was never a question of if he would graduate.

"My choice was to hide behind homelessness or work through it," he said.

He made the choice a long time ago to take charge of his future.

Many knew Kendal as a hard worker, but very few knew his story of homelessness.

Last year, he moved into a children's shelter for stability and resources that his mother wanted to give but could not.

"I can't describe the separation," Zelda Benjamin said. "I just hurt. More lost. Like part of me was missing."

Zelda did not want to let go. She was torn between keeping her family together and doing what was best for her oldest son.

"Kendal said, 'I can go to Palmetto Place.' He said, "I can go.' I really didn't want to do that. It was hard, but he said, 'Mom, if I go then you can do.' That's not easy to hear," Zelda said.

Kendal, his mom, and his younger brother Daniel spent years moving from place to place.

Zelda lost two jobs, her marriage fell apart, and she became ill, all pieces that made being a provider almost impossible.

"It was bad," Zelda said. "Couple of times I sold Plasma to make sure we had food, people who knew what we were going through made sure we ate, I sold my car."

She respected Kendal's decision and his independence, something she said he's had since he was little.

"He told me when he was three years old, 'Mama, me and God got you.' 'Cause he saw me and just worried about things," Zelda said. "Ever since then he wanted to take care of me."

Now a graduate, Kendal's discipline and drive are propelling him through the struggle.

"Never give up, just work through it," he said.

"Things could have turned out differently," Zelda said. "He could have been in the streets. Could have been in jail. But he stuck by me."

And his mom is more than proud. She is inspired.

"The sky is definitely the limit for him," Zelda said. "He can do anything."

Kendal tells WIS he will be attending Limestone College this fall.

Benjamin's story isn't unique. A Midlands school district last year identified a little more than 80 unaccompanied students.

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