To graduate from Harvard Law School would be a monumental moment for anyone. So when Briana Williams did it as a single mom, people flooded her Instagram page with congratulations — sending her story viral.
Becoming a lawyer was always a goal for Williams. But when she became a single mother a year before finishing her Harvard law degree, her dream seemed almost impossible. The 24-year-old shared a candid post about how she decided to complete a final exam in April 2017 while in labor before heading to the hospital to give birth.
“I immediately requested an epidural so that my contractions wouldn’t interfere,” the mom writes. “To say that my last year of law school, with a newborn, and as a single mom was a challenge would be an understatement.”
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.
A post shared by Briana Williams, J.D. (@lovexbriana) on May 24, 2018 at 1:12pm PDT
Beating all odds and statistics, Williams walked across the graduation stage with her adorable mini-me, Evelyn, the two of them wearing matching caps and gowns.
Williams tells Yahoo Lifestyle that the road to success wasn’t easy, and there were times when she thought she couldn’t do what she needed to do.
“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,” she reveals. “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.”
A post shared by Briana Williams, J.D. (@lovexbriana) on May 13, 2018 at 10:23am PDT
Her example is definitely motivating thousands of other women online. A commenter wrote, “You are an Amazing Woman, Mom, Lawyer Thank you for Instagramming Your Amazing Journey And Showing Us how strong We Really are.” Another commenter said, “Congratulations!! This is an amazing example of perseverance and determination and what the love for your child can and will make you fight for.”
Williams is heading back to her home state of California, where she will practice law at a firm in Los Angeles. She will be joining the litigation department and also will undertake pro bono opportunities.
The new grad says that her roots and family were the support she needed at the beginning of her law school journey when she felt she didn’t belong.
“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,” she writes. “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.”
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!
A post shared by Briana Williams, J.D. (@lovexbriana) on May 27, 2018 at 3:10pm PDT
While her 20,000 Instagram followers might believe that Williams is living a perfect life, she cautions not to be deceived by social media.
“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!”
A post shared by Briana Williams, J.D. (@lovexbriana) on Mar 8, 2018 at 7:30pm PST
Today I drank my FAVORITE wine, which happens to be Italian- in Italy!! (Chianti). I also ate spaghetti, rode into Sorrento on a bus and through Positano in a cab( which costs a fortune in Euros), and am staying on the Amalfi Coast with my cuddle buddy, Evie ❤
A post shared by Briana Williams, J.D. (@lovexbriana) on Oct 7, 2017 at 3:55pm PDT
Now that Williams’s story has gone viral, she says that she is writing a book to answer all the questions her followers have about life as a single mom and finding balance. But in the interim, she points people to her podcast: “Download Petty Politics; it is my and my colleague Cameron Clark’s podcast, and it generally addresses many of the questions that I am getting.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
• Daughter’s proud Facebook post about immigrant college-grad dad goes viral: ‘He’s truly the American dream’
• After losing both parents before she was 19, this young woman shares her college graduation with them
• Mother of 5 proudly poses with children in law school graduation photos: ‘We did it’