Khadijah: From a Homeless Shelter to Harvard

Khadijah Williams
What kind of person usually comes to mind when you think of a Harvard student?
Probably someone who has studied and worked hard all of his or her life, and probably has at least some money and a place to call home. You probably wouldn’t think of someone who is homeless and attended 12 schools in 12 years, right?
I’d like to introduce you to Khadijah.
Khadijah grew up in homeless shelters. She did attend 12 schools in 12 years. And she did just graduate high school, and was accepted to Harvard University.
This is one of Khadijah’s scholarship application essays. Prepare to be inspired.
“I have not prepared for college or life in the traditional manner. For almost all of my life, I have never had a place to call home. I have questioned why I have to struggle so hard to succeed while others do not have to question whether they will go to college. However, there is one thing I have never questioned: My education. My life and circumstances have given me life skills, that in turn, have helped make me into the driven and passionate student I am today.”
“I have lived in many types of shelters and motels throughout my life, and as a result, I have learned to be flexible, independent, resourceful, and driven in achieving my goals. Whenever I am hungry, I know where to find food. Whenever I am depressed and stressed, I know exactly where to go to calm down. I tune out the prostitutes who try to sway me towards their way of thinking and ignore the drug addict’s plea to try just one drug. I have learned how to tune out the patronizing pimp that snorts, ‘You ain’t college bound. You live in Skid Row!’ I have learned not to show fear when I am walking home late at night, and I have learned how to remain alive with almost no money. By moving around and experiencing so much, I have learned to adapt to many different situations, go after and accomplish my goals, and most importantly, thrive.”
“Interestingly enough, my difficult life encouraged my passion for learning. The refuge I sought when I was at my most depressed was school. School was free, it was amazing, and it stimulated the intellectually curious side of me. I began to love school. However, shelters were temporary, and as a result, the schools I went to were temporary as well. In kindergarten, I did not notice too much. I simply learned my ABCs and found happiness in school. However, by the time I reached elementary school, I figured out that my way of life had messed with the thing I loved the most. I could not let that happen. One moment in third grade defined my path today.”
“I am nine-years-old and a few years behind in school. I am supposed to be in fourth grade, but moving around has left me behind. One day, my teacher comes up to me in the beginning of my third grade year and says, ‘Young lady, you have got to learn your times tables or you cannot pass on to fourth grade!’
I am very upset. I cannot flunk third grade. So what do I do? I go to the library and check out 4th Grade Adventures, a computer game, and stay at the library every day after school. That year, I tested in the 97th percentile in math and 94th in English. My test scores placed me in the 99th percentile overall, and since then, I have been considered gifted. I cannot let homelessness stop me from learning. This attitude has followed me to today.”
“After this moment in third grade, I realized that if I wanted to continue learning, I would have to teach myself, make sure that I did not fall behind, and learn to adapt to the whims of wherever I would live. Therefore, this is what I did and have been doing for all of my life. After this experience, I skipped two more grades and I finally was in the 10th grade, my right grade, when I had another dilemma. I was 35 credits, a whole year behind in high school. I remembered how my mom and I researched food banks by asking other homeless people where to eat. Therefore, I knew that if I wanted to become a smart, successful scholar, I should talk to other smart people. I asked questions and learned that I could catch up credit wise by taking community college courses. When I signed up for my first set of classes, however, I had to move again. Thank goodness, I learned patience a long time ago.”
“This patience enabled me to find local community colleges in my new place of residence—Los Angeles. Then, I found Upward Bound. I lacked the requirements to join the program: Two letters of recommendation, a middle school transcript, and a current school of attendance. I could not show Upward Bound my gaps in my education. I remembered a conversation I had with a pimp to get him to leave me alone, so I used the same logical frame of mind to explain to Upward Bound why I would be a great fit for the program.
“Look, I moved around too much to have a transcript, but I skipped from 8th to 10th grade, and I have earned a 3.85 G.P.A.. I want to go to college, and I will take on any challenge to get there.’ The pimp was driven away, and Upward Bound accepted my application.”
“As I fill out my college applications to Harvard, Williams College and Amherst, my dream schools, I am thankful for what I have been through. Being homeless has given me the skills I need to succeed on the pathway towards my higher education pursuits and life-long goals. My experiences have made me a dedicated student both inside and outside of the classroom. I do not let anything stop me from achieving my goals. Hearing such negativity where I have lived has enabled me to focus on my goals and remain optimistic, even when faced with grave adversity. Having to depend on myself for food has enabled me to take charge of my education. I have learned to be resourceful and diligent and I am confident in saying that I am a very self-motivated and determined individual that will stop at nothing to receive an education. When I go to college, I know that this acquired knowledge and skills will enable me to succeed in whatever I do.”