Homeless Straight-A Student Receives Full Scholarship to Harvard University

Despite bouncing from shelter to shelter, Khadijah Williams worked hard to maintain a straight-A average in school—and now it's paid off with a full scholarship to Harvard University.

This fall, when 18-year-old Khadijah Williams steps into her dorm room at Harvard University, the event will be monumental in more ways than one. Making the move to college is a huge step for any young student—but for Williams, the school will also be the only real home she’s known in years.

Williams was born to a 14-year-old mother who was enstranged from her family. While Williams was growing up, her mother led her and her sister Jeanine through a series of homeless shelters around California, never staying long in any one location. Sometimes, they would have to dig through dumpsters for food, and spend their nights on the filthy streets.

Because the family moved around so frequently, Williams never had the chance to stay at one school for long. Over the course of 12 years, she attended 12 different schools, often leaving in the middle of a term when a homeless shelter shut down or refused to accommodate the family. But as early as third grade, when Williams placed in the top percentile on a state exam, she realized that she had a gift. Her brain would be her ticket out of the slums, and she didn’t want to squander the opportunity.

As a high school student, Williams began to reach out to local educational groups that could provide her with resources like a quiet study space, free summer classes, and networking opportunities. They helped her learn about the college application process, so that by the time Williams started her junior year at Jefferson High School in Orange County, she was determined to stay there and make the most of her academic career.

So, for the last two years of high school, Williams woke up at 4 AM every morning to take a bus to school, and took part in the Academic Decathlon, the debate team, and the track and field team after a long day of classes, finally returning to her shelter at 11 PM at night. After her mother and sister left town, she was invited to move in with a family who volunteered for South Central Scholars, a local nonprofit group. Despite the stresses of her lifestyle, she managed to graduate fourth in her class.

Now, with a full scholarship to Harvard, Williams hopes to become an education attorney and use her life experiences to help other underprivileged students.

“I think about how I can convince my peers about the value of education,” she wrote in her college admission essay, excerpted in the Los Angeles Times. “I have found that after all the teasing, these peers start to respect me . . . . I decided that I could be the one to uplift my peers . . . . My work is far reaching and never finished.”

comments powered by Disqus