Van Kpa, 17, first met Pat Edmondson, 72, while they were tutoring young children near Charlotte, North Carolina. Van was 12 at the time. Despite their age difference, they became friends and Edmondson became a mentor to Van, who was struggling with school and family life.
This past week, that mentorship came to a triumphant conclusion when Van graduated from Charlotte High School, with Edmondson in the stands, cheering him on, WCNC.com reports.
"It was a feeling of tremendous accomplishment,” Edmondson told WCNC. “It was just the completion of a dream."
When they first crossed paths, Van told Edmondson that he was thinking about dropping out of school.
Edmondson, a former lawyer, took it upon herself to help Van, the youngest of 10 children, to realize a different type of future for himself.
Van and his family came to the U.S. from Vietnam when he was 9. He told Edmondson that he was having a rough time. He had missed a whopping 116 days of school. Despite those troubles and absences, he still managed to pass his classes.
Edmondson told WCNC that clued her into the young man's potential. "It just seemed like if somebody could do that much in that short amount of time, and he worked like a demon, that he shouldn’t have to go back to more of the same the following year.”
Yahoo News spoke to Edmondson, who was quick to credit the many others who helped Van with things big and small, including buying his suit for the prom and taking him to tour colleges. "The story goes on and on. For me, much of the joy of it has come from connecting with some of the most generous, kind people you could hope to meet," she said.
Her mentorship involved a lot more than simply believing in Van. She helped him acquire financial aid to attend a Charlotte Catholic high school and even let him live with her for four years.
Now that he's graduated from high school, Van is off to American University in Washington, D.C., where he plans to study computer science. He'll be the first one in his family to attend college, he told WCNC.
“I feel great, like, there is so much to do, so much to learn," he told WCNC.
Edmondson summed it up like this: "It should be possible. It really should be possible for every kid to do what they're capable of, and that was the challenge. I had no idea what he was capable of, but I knew it was a lot and I see my job as giving him a chance to do that."
Yahoo News spoke with Jen Murlles, Van's counselor at Charlotte Catholic High School, who is helping to raise money for his college expenses. "Van's a neat kid. He's come a long way. He's probably going to do some amazing things because of what Pat afforded him."
Those interested in helping Van pay for college expenses can contact Charlotte Catholic High School, where a fund has been set up.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).