Graduating from Harvard Law School is an achievement for anyone, but for a young mother working tables and bringing up a one year old, it is much, much more.
24 year old single mother Briana Williams graduated with her Jusis Doctorate after going into labour with her child during the final exam in April.
The small town girl from Atlanta, one of six children, was the first and only family member to graduate from college.
Her baby, Evelyn, was dressed appropriately in toga and academic cap to join her mother at graduation, just as she had in many of her mom’s classes.
“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,” she said.
With a 36,000-strong Instagram following, the fashion-conscious graduate cuts a glamorous image for her fans across social media, as well as inspiring many with her achievements.
But facing the challenges of Harvard, with some of the world’s brightest students, was only part of the challenge the young mother faced. Working part time as a waitress and bartender to get through the school she explained on Instagram that she was “scared sh*tless” with the challenges before her.
Book and Street-Smart
But she remembered what her father told her – she was not only book smart, she was also street smart. And she used those smarts to attain an academic goal that will also help her achieve a work and life goal – to help black people and women.
When I first got to Harvard, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. The way that class, race, and gender institutionally intersect in higher education to create uneven playing fields and divisive power structures inevitably creates “imposter syndrome” in most non-traditional or first-generation students.
During her third year at Harvard she was communications director for the Harvard Black Law Students Association and she explains that she has been empowered. It also lead to her creation of her podcast “Petty Politics”, as she said in her Instagram post –
Being the Communication’s Director for BLSA also gave me the autonomy to start my podcast, to facilitate external communications and create a platform to discuss socioeconomic issues in underrepresented communities.
“I made sure to engage in courses that contextualized the law with my blackness, femininity, and income strata.”
Child Care & Studies
Having gone into labor during a final exam period, she requested an epidural so that contractions wouldn’t interfere with her 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.
She also struggled getting reliable child care and occasionally had to leave Evelyn at the Dean’s office while she attended classes.
She admits that frequently she just did not think she could do it.
“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.”
Top Law Firm
She plans to work for a top LA law firm and handle pro bono cases.
“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,” she said.
As for her ‘glam image’, she puts that in context with a comment from an article Yahoo ran –
“Everyone has their own lives and issues that they hide behind their social media platforms. In a time of such hyper-consumerism when socioeconomic mobility is restricted because everything is coveted, commodified, and marketized, it is important to think about how social influencers’ profiles are purposefully glamorized to attract audiences who subscribe to such behaviors. My Instagram portrays a much more glam life than I actually live,” she explains. “It can look like I always travel, but that’s because I only really like to post travel photos. There is life in between. I rarely wear makeup . . “
The inspiration of the Harvard grad is something that certainly establishes what can be done by law students – or lawyers – facing life challenges with the right attitude.