Briana Williams has always dreamed of one day becoming a lawyer.
When she became a single mom a year before she was due to graduate from Harvard Law School, her path to her dream became a little more complicated.
Williams persisted, though, and even took a final exam last April while in labor, before she went to the hospital to give birth.
Now, the 24-year-old has accomplished her ultimate goal and is a proud Harvard graduate. She took to Instagram to share a photo of herself in cap and gown on her graduation day, along with her daughter, Evelyn, who also wore a mini graduate ensemble to match her mom!
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 didnt 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. 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. 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.
Managing Law School As A Single Mom
In the caption with the post, Williams detailed the difficult but rewarding journey that has been navigating law school as a single mom during her baby’s first year of life.
“To say that my last year of law school, with a newborn, and as a single mom was a challenge would be an understatement,” Williams wrote. “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 [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. If not, she’d just have to come with me to class. Evie attended classes often. ”
Single Mom Doubts
Williams goes on to admit that she doubted herself and describes her journey as “heart-wrenching,” but says that, ultimately, she is so happy that she was able to beat the odds and accomplish her goal.
In another post, she said she was “scared sh-tless” the first time she stepped onto the Harvard campus, feeling like she didn’t belong. But, over time, she said her background as a black woman from a “disenfranchised background” helped her tremendously in viewing the law from different angles. Her dad told her that being “street smart” was a great asset.
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/ 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 HLS, 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. Daddy, I'm not scared anymore. We made it!
Mom Says She Did It Because of Her Daughter
“Evelyn- they said that because of you I wouldn’t be able to do this,” Williams wrote in the Instagram post that showed her graduating. “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.”
Williams is now studying for the bar exam and will soon start a position in the litigation department of a law firm in Los Angeles. She also encourages people to listen to her podcast, Petty Politics, which addresses social and political issues of the day.
Graduate Becomes Social Media Darling
In the week since Williams’ social media post, the internet and media have gone crazy for her focus and determination.
“There were many days that 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 told Yahoo. “I refused to allow anyone to assume that my daughter could hold me back in any way when she is such a fundamental piece of my success and courage. I knew that if I persisted, I could help other similarly situated women.”
In another Instagram post thanking Yahoo for allowing her to share her more vulnerable side, the soon-t0-be lawyer wanted to remind people that no one’s life is exactly how it looks online.
“Everyone has their own lives and issues that they hide behind their social media platforms,
she wrote in her post. “My Instagram portrays a much more glam life than I actually live. 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, and it’s not often that you will see me out of gym clothes. I don’t ever have enough time!”
Thank you @yahoo for letting me be transparent with everyone who is on their own journey.✨ Here is my favorite part of the article, because it allowed me to be the most vulnerable: “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, and it’s not often that you will see me out of gym clothes. I don’t ever have enough time!”
Congratulations to Williams on her amazing accomplishment!