(CBS) — Philadelphia teen Richard Jenkins spent part of his young life in homeless shelters. He and his mother would move a lot, and when she couldn’t afford a motel room, they would stay in shelters, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Embarrassed by his situation, he would lie to classmates about where he lived. Jenkins knew there was one thing that could give him a better life: education.

“I realized I’ve got to buckle in because I can’t have my potential kids going through what I’m going through now,” Jenkins told Philadelphia radio station WHYY.

Jenkins decided to focus on academics, but because he was a bookworm, he was bullied in school. Kids would taunt Jenkins by calling him “Harvard,” the Associated Press reports.

He didn’t know it at the time, but one day his perseverance in school would pay off in a major way. Jenkins would go from being called “Harvard” to actually being accepted into the Ivy League school.

Jenkins is this year’s valedictorian at his high school, Girard College, a boarding school in north Philadelphia for students from low-income, single-parent families, who all attend on scholarship. He worked hard his whole academic life to get to where he is. He also attended a reading and writing program in 8th grade called Mighty Writers, which “teaches Philadelphia kids, ages 7 to 17, to think and write with clarity.”

He recently got to go back to Mighty Writers to deliver his good news to the program’s director. Wearing a new Harvard sweatshirt, Jenkins revealed that not only was he was accepted into the prestigious university, he got a full ride.

Jenkins says he applied to Harvard after receiving a promotional email in his junior year of high school. He was especially attracted to the school’s program that covers tuition for students in households that earn less than $65,000 a year.

He says he learned of his acceptance while on a class trip to Paris. He was so excited, he threw his cellphone when he read the acceptance letter. His mother, however, never doubted he could do it. “I was not surprised,” Quiana McLaughlin told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Jenkins is protective of his mother, and says he doesn’t like to talk about his past living in a homeless shelter, the Inquirer reports. However, he does say that his experiences as a child gave him the drive and desire to get into Harvard.