BY Ama Nunoo, 3:00pm May 22, 2021,

From foster care to Harvard on a full scholarship, meet Kelisha Williams

Kelisha Williams hopes to be president someday. Photo Courtesy of WCPO/Ally Kraemer

Kelisha Williams had a dream of being president of the United States and decided to work hard regardless of being in foster care. After acing the American College Testing exam, Williams got into Harvard and is heading to the alma mater of past presidents this fall.

She told her teachers at a very young age that she wants to be president, but her present circumstances always said something different to her.

At 16, Williams entered foster care and had a hard time adjusting and fitting in. In a space of two years, she had lived with five families. She gained some stability in her life only after being taken in by Maria Finkenstead from the Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth (SAFY), WCPO reports.

“Maria is definitely easy-going. Probably the most easy-going parent I’ve had,” Williams said. 

Finkenstead gave Williams the kind of support every child of college-going age would need from their parent. She remains grateful to her for giving her a home and being supportive of her dreams.

During her after-school job at Walmart, her foster mother casually asked her what her score was in her ACT, and her answer was 32. The average student usually scores 27 and the highest score is 36.

Finkenstead, getting to know Williams’ score, told her: “You can go anywhere”. 

Williams applied to Harvard and other Ivy League schools including the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Princeton, and her top choice for college, the University of Southern Carolina. She made 24 applications in total but doubted she will be accepted in some of them, particularly Harvard. “When I applied to Harvard, I applied to Harvard as a joke,” Williams said. “I didn’t think I was going to get in.”

Williams said it was an absolute honor to be interviewed by Hamilton actor Lin Manuel Miranda and Michelle Obama during her Harvard admissions interview. She said she could not help but ask the former first lady how she sailed through life and everything that it threw at her to become one of the most influential women in the world.

Obama’s words were simple and concise, “You just have to keep going. No one’s ever fully always on your side,” Miranda recalled to WCPO.

After the rigorous admissions process and her high ACT score, Williams still did not think she will get in but after she logged into Harvard’s portal and saw the confetti pop up, with the word, “Congratulations,” that was when it all sunk in. “I started screaming at first, and then I started crying and was pretty hysterical after that. Nobody was going to hand me a ticket out of here,” said Williams. “I had to take it for myself.”

Finkenstead was proud of her and all that she had achieved. She got to hear the news of her acceptance into Harvard with a full-ride scholarship over dinner. “I went nuts. I gave her her first hug. It was our first hug…She’s done all the work. All the determination has come from her. I take no credit in any of her accomplishments,” Finkenstead said.

There are many foster children out there who may have given up on themselves and their dreams because they may be having a hard time now. Williams is proof that things get better, and she hopes her story inspires them to always give their best in whatever situation they may find themselves in.

“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. Eventually, it does,” said Williams. 

As a Harvard freshman, Williams will be studying political science and psychology, and a step closer to fulfilling her dreams of becoming president.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 22, 2021


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