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Women in the Law

Would-Be Attorney Headed to Harvard Grew Up in Homeless Shelters

Posted Jun 23, 2009 3:27 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Growing up in California, Khadijah Williams had to take an unusual amount of responsibility for running her own life, under highly daunting circumstances.

Williams' mother, who is only 14 years older, encouraged Williams and told her she had the ability to be a major success in life. However, she couldn't provide much stability. Williams, her younger sister and her mother lived in homeless shelters, motels and armories as Williams attended 12 schools in 12 years, reports the Los Angeles Times.

"She finished only half of fourth grade, half of fifth and skipped sixth. Seventh grade was split between Los Angeles and San Diego. Eighth grade consisted of two weeks in San Bernardino," the newspaper recounts.

Inspired to focus on her education when she scored very high on a statewide test and was categorized as gifted at age 9, Williams eventually reached out to organizations and mentors when she was in high school. As a result, she was able to spend her final years before college in the same high school, enabling her to get the recommendations she needed to win admission to Harvard University—on a full scholarship. In addition to her academic activities, she was also a leader on her high school's track and field team.

She graduated from high school this month with a 4.0 average, ranking fourth in her class. After she graduates from college, she hopes to earn her juris doctor degree and practice education law, the newspaper reports.

Despite her amazing educational success, Williams still faces personal challenges. She sees her mother only occasionally, and doesn't feel particularly close to her classmates, although she is friendly with them and many have sought her help with their homework.

"It's a nice, glossy, shiny, colorful yearbook," she says of her high school's yearbook. "But it feels like they're all strangers. I'm nowhere in these pages."

Related earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Traffic Ticket, Friends and True Grit Helped Single Mom Become Lawyer"

ABAJournal.com: "Single Mom at 14, Law Grad at 24"

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