NKY teen, once in foster care, accepted to Harvard University

“If you have the dream, go out and get it.”
From foster care to full ride at Harvard University
Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 10:40 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A Northern Kentucky teen who spent her teens in the foster care system is headed to Harvard University.

Next fall, Kelisha Williams will be one of only 1,968 freshman students in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It’s doubly impressive considering Harvard admitted just 3.4 percent of applicants, the lowest percentage in its history.

“I worked hard,” Williams told FOX19 NOW on Tuesday, “and I maintained my GPA, even when it was almost impossible.”

Williams thanks her first therapist in the foster care system, a man named Mark, for the “pivotal role” she says he played in her life. “He really changed things around for me.”

She also says she has some recent housing stability to credit for her success. In October 2020, she moved in with foster mother Maria Finkenstead.

“It was definitely easier moving forward knowing that I didn’t have to worry about getting kicked out every other day,” she said.

Having already turned 18 and having already graduated from high school, Williams was only supposed to stay with Finkenstead for three weeks.

“Just getting to know her,” Finkenstead said, “I kind of said, ‘You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to.’”

So Williams stayed and took classes at Northern Kentucky University to gain more college credits. Then she got in to Harvard.

Finkenstead says she told Williams afterwards, “’You can consider this your home base, and you can come and go as you please, just like my young adult children.’”

With that safety net, Williams can now focus on her vision of becoming a lawyer.

“I’m in the courtroom. I’m fighting for someone who deserves justice,” she said.

She also intends to spread the message to other teens that anything is possible.

“If you have the dream, go out and get it,” she said.

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