Graduating from law school is, in and of itself, an amazing accomplishment. Graduating from Harvard Law within months of giving birth to and caring for your first child, as a single mom? Well, that's a whole new level of impressive. And that's exactly what Briana Williams, a 24-year-old from Los Angeles, just did. During her final year of law school, Williams welcomed her baby girl Evelyn, and then proceeded to breastfeed her daughter while completing her degree. She took to Instagram to share her applause-worthy story, and it's—of course—going viral.
"I went into labor in April- during final exam period," Williams explained in her post. "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."
She admitted that there were days she was "so mentally and emotionally fatigued" that she didn't leave her bed. She "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."
Williams leveled with her followers: "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. 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."
In a separate post, Williams shared more details of her journey to Harvard. "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," she wrote. "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!???'"
She went on to share that she's 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.'"
Over the course of her time at Harvard, Williams said she "found ways that I could appreciate coming from a disenfranchised background." For example, she wrote that she 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!"
There's no doubt about that. Williams' winning perspective, positivity, and drive was very much on display when she started her summer job just three and a half weeks after Evelyn was born in April 2017. "I didn’t tell anyone that I had a baby," she told USA Today, sharing that she would schedule doctor appointments on her lunch breaks. “I never missed any activity because I didn’t want anyone to think that me having a baby was holding me back.”
Williams' success and inspiring story has of course grown her social media following—she has 29K+ Instagram followers and counting—but she isn't big on the platform in general. Yet, when it came to sharing her story, she felt compelled to post on Instagram. "I don’t really write captions. I don’t put my voice out there," she told 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."
Of her motivation to share her story, tells Parents.com, "After graduating, I felt overwhelmingly emotional at what I felt was—other than giving birth to my daughter—my greatest accomplishment. I've wanted to attend Harvard since I was a child and thinking about how many obstacles I'd gone through to get my diploma made me feel so empowered. Also, the added feelings of what this meant for my family, as I am a first-generation college student. I do not normally share my feelings or personal aspirations on social media, because I find such platforms to be disingenuous; However, I wanted people to see that there are stories behind the photos that one's curate on our pages. I was ready to be more intimate with my followers, because I want to give others who, like me, had a difficult time navigating higher education, hope."
Williams has done just that—and the new lawyer is no doubt particularly inspiring to other single parents working to achieve their dreams. She tells Parents.com she has received responses from "individuals who say that they've taken steps to pursue their dreams because of my story," and it makes her "feel amazing, knowing that I made at least a marginal difference."
To anyone on the fence about pursuing a path like Williams, she advises, "Do not let anyone hold you back, not even yourself," elaborating, “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.”