Harvard Law School is one of the most rigorous law programs in the country, but few understand just how difficult it can be more than Briana Williams.
The 24-year-old self-described "small-town girl from Atlanta" gave birth to her daughter, Evelyn, during the final exams of her first year at Harvard Law School and spent the remainder of her time in graduate school mastering the art of balancing parenthood and academia.
"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," she writes in an Instagram post.
Williams says she learned how to breastfeed while writing papers and often brought her daughter to class. "To say that my last year of law school, with a newborn, as a single mom was a challenge would be an understatement," she says.
Last week, her hard work paid off. Wearing matching caps and gowns, Williams carried her daughter across the Harvard commencement stage to receive her degree, reports USA Today.
"Evelyn — they said that because of you I wouldn't be able to do this. Just know that I did this BECAUSE OF YOU," writes Williams.
Since her graduation, Williams' post has gone viral and currently has over 20,000 likes. "I don't really write captions. I don't put my voice out there," she tells USA Today. "Upon graduating, I wanted to show people myself. I didn't know how receptive people would be towards it. I'm just thankful that people were." After sharing her story, Williams has over 33,000 followers on Instagram.
"My Instagram portrays a much more glam life than I actually live," she says to Yahoo. "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. 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."
The law school grad has since realized that her story of hard work and perseverance has resonated with others and has shared her thoughts in subsequent posts. In one, she discusses being a first-generation college student and experiencing impostor syndrome at Harvard.
"I was the first and only in the family to graduate from college," she writes, admitting that she was afraid the first time she stepped on to Harvard's campus. "I went to college with one suitcase and one pair of shoes, holding on to a bible that my older sister has tucked away in my bag."
She worked as a waitress and a bartender to support herself and eventually overcome worries that she did not belong at the Ivy League institution.
"I could look at the law through the lens of a black woman and (eventually), a financially independent single mother," explains Williams. "I used this to my advantage, I made sure to engage in courses that contextualized the law with my blackness, femininity and income strata."
Throughout her undeniably difficult academic journey, Williams never forgot about the importance of giving back and used her unique perspective to contribute to organizations on campus. "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," she writes. "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."
Today, Williams is focused on taking the California Bar Exam and raising Evelyn with the help of her father.
"At first, I was the anomaly of my [marginalized] community," she writes "Then, as a single mother, I became a statistic. Next, I pray that — for the sake of my baby — I will be an example."
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