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DES MOINES, Iowa — His mother went to prison for drugs. His father wasn’t around. Neither were his older siblings. Russhaun Johnson, essentially left all alone and just a teenager, slept in a park at night. He didn’t think he had any other choice.

But Russhaun  was determined he wouldn’t give up and he wouldn’t give in to the bad choices his family members had made. Russhaun would be different. “I know my potential,” Johnson said in the hallway outside North High School, “I know I’m not there yet.”

Russhaun persevered through homelessness, buckled down at school and found temporary shelter at his grandmother’s house. Monday, now as his student body senior class president, Russhaun got to stand in front of more than 1,400 fellow students, teachers and families. Oh, and he got to introduce the President of the United States.

“It was very dream-fulfilling, Johnson said on his time on stage with President Barack Obama. “I was inspired by him and he was being inspired by me.”

Russhaun’s moment on stage with the country’s first African-American president, a man who also had to overcome a father who left him, reinforced his new found purpose: to help others better their lives.

“As I got older, I started to realize bad things will always happen,” Russhaun said, “But it’s what you do after those bad things that really matter.”

Russhaun plans to go to college and become a teacher.