CHICAGO -- Like millions of 18-year-olds across the country, Ivry Hall is getting ready for his first semester in college: He's attending Alabama State University after graduating valedictorian from high school. To get to this point, however, Hall faced challenges that most upcoming freshmen cannot imagine.
Hall, who grew up on Chicago's South Side, said his childhood was filled with trouble.
"Gang banging. I used to smoke when I was little," he said.
He also dropped out of school.
"I did a lot of stuff. That's just from the image I was seeing so I wanted to do it too," he said.
Then his life took a turn at age 12 when his single mother was diagnosed with cancer and died.
"When my mom passed away, I was so hurt, and I just wanted to do better," he said.
Hall went back to school, and eventually, attended Tilden High School in Chicago. He was living with a cousin who moved to Harvey, Illinois, and it took nearly two hours to get to class.
"I had to get on three buses and one train," Hall said.
When he was a senior, his dad died of lung failure.
"Of course, I lost my mom. I lost my dad. I wish they were still here to see what I've accomplished now, but they're not. Everything is not going to come as you want it," he said.
Through the struggles, St. Sabina Church, sports and boxing gym kept him grounded.
"No pity party. No poor me. He was just a young brother who wanted the best for himself and others," said Reverand Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina.
With his communities' encouragement and his own determination, Hall managed to graduate valedictorian.
"I don't believe in giving up, and I think that failure is not an option," Hall said.
Now, with a $10,000 scholarship from a St. Sabina program, he's scheduled to start classes at Alabama State University this month. He wants to major in business so he can open a business that helps others.
"I'm going to find a way to do everything without giving up. If I give up, I will be just like everybody that I know," Hall said.
Instead, he's determined to succeed.
"This is the exact beginning. This is the start of a new life," he said.
* More local news
* Send us a news tip
* Download the abc7NY app for breaking news alerts
Teen overcomes incredible odds to become valedictorian, attend Alabama State