Parents

Baby bottles and law books: How a single mom made it to her Harvard graduation

When Briana Williams received her Harvard law degree, she walked across the graduation stage similar to the way she raced across campus throughout the last year of school — carrying her baby daughter in her arms.

The 24-year-old graduate noted the significance of her May 24 commencement in a series of photos featuring her with her 13-month old daughter Evelyn in matching caps and gowns. Williams posted the photos to Instagram in an inspirational post that has since gone viral.

“At first, I was the anomaly of my [marginalized] community. Then, as a single mother, I became a statistic,” she wrote. “Next, I pray that — for the sake of my baby — I will be an example.”

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

The post also has drawn attention for the story Williams included of how she finished taking a final exam last year while in labor — and how she immediately asked for an epidural “so that my contractions wouldn’t interfere with my Family Law grade.”

It turns out she had nothing to worry about.

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“I did well that semester. Every semester I did really well,” she told TODAY from Los Angeles, where she now lives and will soon be working: Williams already has landed a job in the litigation department of a large firm in the area.

But for now, she’s studying for the bar exam in July, leaving her little time to bask in the spotlight shining on the feat she just accomplished.

@lovexbriana/Instagram
1-year-old Evelyn is excited over the graduation of her mom, Briana Williams!

Williams said part of the reason she opened up about her journey was because few people who follow her on Instagram understood the exhaustion ad roller coaster of emotions she experienced over the last year.

“On social media we see a lot of everyone's results but we don't see their processes. My social media doesn't show the nights I stay up late, all the diapers, my past struggles of raising Evelyn alone," she said. "I just wanted to share my story because I felt very empowered by it and I was hoping it would make someone else feel that way as well.”

Williams raised Evelyn on her own but with a lot of help from her Harvard community. She shunned using daycare because of the cost, instead putting that money toward savings and living expenses, and she relied on friends to babysit. She also sometimes brought her daughter to class.

“I would email my teachers if I needed to bring Evie and they would be fine,” she said.

@lovexbriana/Instagram
Evelyn often attended classes with her mother at Harvard Law School.

She also had one specific building full of people she knew she could depend on when in a bind.

“I would drop her off in the dean of students office if I knew Evie wasn't going to be calm that day and I really needed to focus,” she said. “They all loved her in there.”

Williams admits there were many days when she didn’t think she would make it, but she hopes her accomplishments will inspire others.

I am everything I am because you love me. Happy Mother’s Day to all!

A post shared by Briana Williams, J.D. (@lovexbriana) on

“There are some things in life that happened to us that are unfortunate but we shouldn't let external circumstances dictate how we use them to move forward,” she said.

“You can use some things as a crutch or you can add them to your testimony in a way that can inspire others,” she added. “If you take that type of mindset with every single negative thing that happens, you're always going to win in the end.”

It helps that Williams felt she had no choice but to succeed for the sake of her daughter, who she thanked at the end of her Instagram post.

“Thank you for giving me the strength and courage to be invincible," she wrote. "Let’s keep beating all their odds, baby.”

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