An Cincinnati, Ohio, teen who entered foster care at the age of 16 and rehomed five times in less than two years is getting ready to further her education at one of the top schools in the country on a full ride due to her hard work amid unstable conditions and what would be insurmountable odds for many.
While working at Walmart and figuring out the next move for her future, Kelisha Williams was encouraged to apply for college after being encouraged by her Specialized Alternatives for Families & Youth (SAFY) foster mom Maria Finkenstead. Once she learned Williams scored a 32 on her ACT, Finkenstead told the teen that with a score like that the college world is her oyster.
“I said, ‘Hey, did you take the ACT?'” Finkenstead told WCPO Cincinnati. “She said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘Well, what did you get?’ And she’s like, a 32, and I was like, ‘You can go anywhere!'”
According to the ACT organization, the national average Composite score for 2020 was 20.6, one-tenth of a point lower than the 2019 national average of 20.7.
Taking the possibilities into account, Williams decided to cast a wide net and apply for 24 schools, including all of the Ivy League and her dream school, the University of Southern California, and was completely surprised when she received her Harvard University acceptance email, since she applied to the school “as a joke.”
“When I applied to Harvard, I applied to Harvard as a joke,” she said. “I didn’t think I was going to get in.”
During her admissions interviews, Williams spoke with Harvard alum Michelle Obama and “Hamilton” creator Lin Manuel-Miranda, and she was given a piece of advice by the former first lady. “Wise advice, of course, more or less, you just have to keep going. No one’s ever fully always on your side,” the “Becoming” author said when asked how she “kept going with so many people working against her,” according to Williams.
She hopes that her story serves as an inspiration to children in foster care across the nation, showing them that regardless of where they come from, they can achieve anything. “To any of the foster kids that are watching, everyone always says it’s going to get better. I never used to believe that when I was going through it and stuff like that,” she stated. “Eventually it does.”
Williams will use her full scholarship to study study political science and psychology at Harvard and hopes to pursue a career in politics, and, if she has her way, will eventually become a president of the United States.