One more time, he ignored being called.
"When Leland Shelton was 4 years old,” Obama began a passage. “Where's Leland?"
Shelton froze when he heard his name. His classmates had to nudge him and make him stand up before the president.
"When Leland Shelton was 4 years old, social services took him away from his mama, put him in the care of his grandparents. By age 14, he was in the foster care system. Three years after that, Leland enrolled in Morehouse. And today, he is graduating Phi Beta Kappa on his way to Harvard Law School."
President Barack Obama told Leland Shelton's story at his 2013 Morehouse graduation.
Very few people even knew about Shelton’s situation while he was a student at Morehouse. Obama’s acknowledgment of it, singling him out as an example for other black men, humbled him to tears while his fellow graduates slapped him on the back and applauded.
“It was amazing,” Shelton told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “That moment is still very hazy for me.”
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Just a few months after his graduation, Shelton found himself in Cambridge at Harvard Law. He graduated in 2016 and moved back to Baltimore, where he works at a large firm doing commercial and corporate litigation.
In retelling his story, it was strikingly familiar as part of the experience at historically black colleges and universities.
“In the 1980s, my parents got caught up in addiction,” Shelton said. “As a result, my grandparents ended up taking all six of us and raising us.”
Shelton said up until his grandparents took him in at the age of 5, he had spent all his life in and out of shelters and projects and in unstable situations.
His grandmother had been a seamstress. But when she took in the children, she became a licensed foster care parent.
“Baltimore in the late ’90s-early 2000s was a tough place, where a young man could easily stray down the wrong path. I had seen the effects of drugs on my family. I had seen drug dealing,” Shelton said. “Luckily, I was in church several times a week and had a good church family and mentors.”
Aside from the one time he got in trouble for being a “knucklehead,” Shelton was identified early as a gifted student who took advanced classes and enrolled in magnet schools.
At one of those schools, he watched the cartoon “Our friend, Martin,” which mentioned that Martin Luther King Jr. attended Morehouse College.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was cooler than any superhero,” Shelton said. “If he went to Morehouse, I was going to Morehouse.”
Shelton, having never visited the school, applied and got accepted with a partial scholarship. He found the rest of the money and moved to Atlanta.
That’s where, in due course, he found himself sitting in the rain listening to a president.
“My grandmother passed away at the beginning of my sophomore year,” said Shelton, who helps his 87-year-old grandfather raise his two youngest siblings. “I was sitting there thanking God in my mind for her love and the support she gave me. Reliving my childhood. I am kind of glad that I missed the call from the White House. Made the moment more surprising.”