Anthony Mendez knows a thing or two about defeating the odds.
The 19-year-old's best friend was shot and killed during a neighborhood feud in 2011, according to the New York Daily News. A year later, his family was evicted from their home in the Bronx and forced to live in a shelter for the next six months.
And on Jan. 20, he'll be first lady Michelle Obama's guest at the 2015 State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., USA Today reported.
Mendez, a freshman at the University of Hartford, is being recognized by Obama for overcoming many obstacles on his way to becoming the first member of his family to graduate from high school, according to the White House. During his time as a homeless student, Mendez woke up at 4:30 a.m. to make it from the Brooklyn-based shelter to his school in the Bronx.
"It was frustrating and hard to be in school and stay focused after [my friend's] passing and being poor and living in a shelter, not being able to buy clothes," he told the Daily News.
Mendez attended a small round-table discussion the first lady hosted last summer, the outlet reported, which focused on people who've triumphed over difficulties as a child.
"I guess I made an impact on her," Mendez said of the decision to invite him back to the Capitol. "I got all that starstruck out of me when I first met her. Now it's going to be like, 'OK, relax. You met her once, you can do it again.'"
According to the White House, Mendez said he has learned to be proud of his past after earning his diploma last summer. The college student, who won a scholarship to run track for the university, is studying political science.
Mendez said his passion for helping others will qualify him to take up a leadership role in the public sector someday.
"Everybody hits a hard time (and thinks), 'This is so hard,'" Mendez told the Daily News. "They’re not sure how they’re going to get over it. But you (have to) persevere, because obstacles make everyone stronger."
You can support iMentor, an organization that provided mentoring and support to Mendez in high school, by clicking the widget below.