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Ohio teen in foster care on her way to Harvard University

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Posted at 1:24 PM, May 12, 2021

An Ohio teenager in the foster care system told her teachers when she was younger that she wanted to be the president when she grew up, and she is one step closer to her dream as she prepares to head to Harvard University in the fall.

Kelisha Williams entered the foster care system at 16 years old, and she said it has been a tough few years. She has moved five times in less than two years before ending up with SAFY foster mom Maria Finkenstead.

"Maria is definitely easygoing," Williams said. "Probably the most easygoing parent I've had."

Williams was working at Walmart and preparing for college when Finkenstead asked her how college admissions were going.

"I said, 'Hey did you take the ACT?'" Finkenstead said. "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!'"

Williams applied to 24 schools, including her dream school, the University of Southern California, and all the Ivy League schools.

"When I applied to Harvard, I applied to Harvard as a joke," Williams said. "I didn't think I was going to get in."

What started as a joke became more real as the days went on. As part of Harvard's admissions interview, Williams spoke with Michelle Obama and Lin Manuel Miranda. During the interviews, Williams asked Obama how she kept going with so many people working against her.

"Wise advice, of course, more or less, you just have to keep going. No one's ever fully always on your side," is what Williams said Obama told her.

Then, when Williams logged into her account to see if she was accepted, she was met with confetti and the word "Congratulations."

"I started screaming at first, and then I started crying and was pretty hysterical after that," Williams said.

Williams and Finkenstead met for dinner later, where Williams shared the news.

"I went nuts," Finkenstead said. "I gave her her first hug. It was our first hug."

Now, Williams is preparing to study political science and psychology on a full-ride scholarship to Harvard.

"She's done all the work. All the determination has come from her," Finkenstead said. "I take no credit in any of her accomplishments."

"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," Williams said. "Eventually it does."

This story was originally published by Ally Kraemer at WCPO.