‘I’m going to be honest with you guys, I didn’t think I could do it.’ Single mom graduates Harvard, goes from ‘anomaly to statistic to example’

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“I went into labor in April- during final exam period. I immediately requested an epidural so that my contractions wouldn’t interfere with my Family Law grade. And, with tears in my eyes, I finished it. This ‘biting the bullet’ experience is quite quintessential of my time at Harvard. To say that my last year of law school, with a newborn, and as a single mom was a challenge would be an understatement. Some days I was so mentally and emotionally fatigued that I did not leave my bed. I struggled with reliable childcare. It was not atypical to see me rushing through Wasserstein to the Dean of Students’ office with Evelyn in her carriage, asking DOS can they keep her for a few until class was over. If not, she’d just have to come with me to class. Evie attended classes often.

So I’m going to be honest with you guys.. I didn’t think I could do it.

I did not think that, at 24-years-old, as a single mom, I would be able to get through one of the most intellectually rigorous and challenging positions of my life. It was hard. It hurt. Instagram can make peoples’ lives seem seamless, but this journey has been heartwrenching. However, I am happy to say that I DID do it.

Courtesy Briana Williams

Today, Evelyn in my arms, with tears streaming down my face, I accepted my Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. At first, I was the anomaly of my [marginalized] community. Then, as a single mother, I became a statistic. Next, I pray that- for the sake of my baby, I will be an example.

Courtesy Briana Williams

The first time I stepped on Harvard’s campus was for Admitted Students Weekend. Accompanied by family and close friends, I walked into a classroom of about 20 other students who’d also been accepted. I was afraid. What I would soon identify as ‘imposter syndrome’ immediately hit me as I greeted other students who proudly wore name tags that exemplified their ivy league backgrounds.

There must have been a look on my face because my dad came up behind me and whispered- ‘You scared!???’ I’m a small-town girl from Atlanta. My mom has six children, and I was the first and only in the family to graduate from college. I went to college with one suitcase and one pair of shoes, holding on to a bible that my older sister had tucked away in my bag. I’d worked full-time as a waitress and bartender in New York to get by.

Being in such an intellectually stimulating and rigorous environment was not only intimidating- I was scared shitless. ‘Heck no. man!’ Is what I responded. ‘Good,’ my dad said, ‘Because you got something they don’t got- you’re street smart. You’re book smart AND you’re street smart.’ During my time at Harvard Law School, I’ve realized how much truth there was to the statement. Despite the institution’s structural issues, I found ways that I could appreciate coming from a disenfranchised background. I could look at the law through the lens of a black woman and (eventually), a financially independent single mother. I used this to my advantage. I made sure to engage in courses that contextualized the law with my blackness, femininity, and income strata. I joined organizations, clinics, and fellowships that would allow me to advocate on behalf of those who, like myself, had trouble navigating their way into higher education. I found a community, friends, and a platform in this. Now, I am happy to be joining a top law firm in Los Angeles, where I will not only be a member of the litigation department, but I will have the autonomy to undertake several pro bono opportunities.

Courtesy Briana Williams

Evelyn- they said that because of you I wouldn’t be able to do this. Just know that I did this BECAUSE OF YOU. Thank you for giving me the strength and courage to be invincible. Let’s keep beating all their odds, baby.”

Courtesy Briana Williams

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Briana Williams, 24, of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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