If there’s one message we’re told about getting ahead in society, it’s that education is the great equalizer. No matter your background, if you apply yourself to your studies and give it your all, you can get that degree, then that great job, then you can get the nice house and the rest of the things from the life you dream of.
The trouble with that is higher education is tough. In addition to the obvious academic demands and financial barriers, there can be seemingly insurmountable personal obstacles between a person and a degree. But one woman would once again prove the old adage “where there’s a will, there’s a way”…
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Briana was a kid born into a big southern family. One of 6 siblings, her mother and father had a hard time providing for them all. Though neither of them had more than a high school education, they worked hard to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.
And they got the job done. Raising the kids in Atlanta, there was rarely any spare money to spoil the kids or buy fancy things but they had each other, their faith, and enough to get by. But Briana’s parents weren’t satisfied leaving their kids with a legacy of barely keeping above water…
Better Than Me
Like all good parents, they wanted their children’s lives to be better than their own. To accomplish that goal, they impressed upon Briana and her siblings the importance of education from a very young age. Education, they believed, was the ladder that made it possible to climb out of poverty.
Out of all the kids, Briana proved to be the most academically inclined. With dreams of being a lawyer, she studied hard, put everything into her assignments, and practiced staying cool during exams. All of her hard work came to fruition when she became the first member of her family to attend college…
Working Double Time
“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,” Briana said. In order to support herself, she worked full time as a waitress and bartender all while balancing a full-time schedule of classes.
Of course, her grades were the top priority and if there was one thing Briana was good at, it was working hard. Not only was she able to keep up with the course load, she performed so well that she was accepted into Harvard Law school…
“The first time I stepped on Harvard’s campus was for Admitted Students Weekend,” Briana said. There with the other 20 or so students, most of them from Ivy league backgrounds, she was intimidated and felt she didn’t belong. “There must have been a look on my face because my dad came up behind me and whispered ‘you scared?’”
“Heck no” she said, feigning confidence. “Good,” her father said, “Because you got something they don’t got… you’re book smart and you’re street smart.” She also had that work ethic, ready and willing to put in whatever work was necessary. But just after the halfway point of law school, Briana Williams was confronted by an unexpected situation: she got pregnant…
Conventional wisdom said that she wouldn’t be able to have a child and complete a law degree, especially considering that the father wasn’t going to be in the picture. It seemed like the only 2 options available for Briana were to terminate the pregnancy to focus on her law degree or to drop out of school to raise her child.
Neither of those options was acceptable to her so Briana chose a third path: she was going to have her baby and finish her degree, as daunting a challenge as it seemed. Just as she had in the past, she would find a way to fight for the things she wanted in life…
Naturally, things were very hard for Briana. “There were many days I’d go into a depression because I felt overwhelmed and let the pressure of what I was trying to do get to me,” she said. “I suppose I just did what I had to do, regardless of how I felt on the inside, because I did not want people to be able to say that I had to choose between motherhood and success.”
Perhaps the most difficult test of her resolve came when Briana went into labor in the middle of a final exam. Amazingly, she didn’t call it quits. Instead, after a ride to the hospital, she “immediately requested an epidural so that my contractions wouldn’t interfere with my Family Law Grade,” she said…
She kept at it, pen in hand as she sat in her hospital bed, trying to keep her focus while going through the ordeal of childbirth. “With tears in my eyes, I finished it,” she said. With the final out of the way, she turned her attention to giving birth to her child, a sweet girl named Evelyn with a million dollar smile. Oh, and she passed the final, by the way.
Biting The Bullet
“This ‘biting the bullet’ experience was quite quintessential of my time at Harvard,” Briana said. She’d had her baby, but still had far to go to get to the finish line. “To say that my last year of law school, with a newborn, and as a single mom was a challenge would be an understatement,” she added…
While balancing her studies and working to support herself, Briana’s biggest challenge was finding reliable childcare for Evelyn. “It was not atypical to see me rushing through Wasserstein [hall] to the Dean of Students’ office with Evelyn in her carriage, asking DOS can they keep her for a few until class was over.” They were sometimes glad to take the adorable baby but “If no, she’d just have to come with me to class. Evie attended classes often.”
Perseverance Without Hope
But even with the help of those around her the stress of what she was trying to accomplish was still crushing. “Some days I was so mentally and emotionally fatigued that I did not leave my bed,” Briana said. “To be honest […] I didn’t think I could do it.” But she persevered not despite of her child but because of her…
The first magical months of motherhood began, the final grueling months of law school wound down. Through her grit, the support of her friends, family, and the Harvard community, and through her faith, Briana did it. She’d completed her law degree and was able to walk in the graduation ceremony wearing matching caps and gowns with her now-1-year-old daughter.
Because Of You
“Today, Evelyn in my arms, with tears streaming down my face, I accepted my Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School,” she wrote in an Instagram post. “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.”…
We Made It
Not only had Briana made it through school, she was able to secure a position at “a top law firm in Los Angeles, where I will not only be a member of the litigation department,” she said, ”but I will have the autonomy to undertake several pro bono opportunities.” Thinking about the day when she arrived at Harvard, shaking in her boots, she said “Daddy, I’m not scared anymore. We made it!”
You’ll Get The Glory
After coming through her exceptional trials and tribulations, Briana offered this advice to other people who found themselves in difficult situations: “Try as hard as you can to do what you have to do… Eventually, you’re going to receive the glory from that. And not only that, your child is going to be even more appreciative of you and the sacrifices you made.”