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-- Derrius Quarles leans back in his seat and methodically debates Aristotle's theory of truth during freshman honors English class at Morehouse College.
He strides across campus in a navy blue tailored suit and a bold red sweater handing out business cards that boast "Student/Entrepreneur/Leader."
But behind the 19-year-old's dauntless appearance is a past that few on campus know.
When Quarles was 5, the state took him away from his mother. He spent his childhood bouncing from home to home before ending up on his own at 17 in an apartment on Chicago's South Side.
His arrival at a prestigious, historically African-American college -- with more than $1 million in scholarship offers -- is a story of inspiration and anguish. And it's a testament to his determination to prove that he is better than his beginnings.
"You can't go around thinking you are inferior just because you didn't have parents," he says. "For me, it's about knowing where you are from and accepting it, but more important, knowing where you are going."
Despite his polished veneer, sometimes there are glimpses into a more complicated young man.
In sociology class, when students discuss their childhood dependence on parents, the usually verbose Quarles withdraws from the lively discussion and doodles in a notebook. When a tutoring coordinator asks students about the "caring adults" in their lives, Quarles mumbles something about an aunt.
He rarely talks about his childhood, but when pushed, the words tumble out.
"I've had people tell me that I ain't never gonna be s---. That's not a scratch, that cuts deep," he says. "After so many people put me down, I said, 'I'm gonna show you.' "
Quarles made good on that promise when he won more than $1 million in scholarship offers, including a full ride at Morehouse. A graduate of Kenwood Academy High School in Chicago, he is one of about a dozen students nationwide to garner such a bounty, according to Mark Kantrowitz, who runs the Web site Finaid, which tracks college aid.
He won full scholarships to five universities, the Gates Millennium Scholarship worth $160,000 and the Horatio Alger and Coca-Cola scholarships, each worth $20,000, to name a few. He'll use most of it to pay for advanced schooling.