By Bernita Bradley
There are scholars, and then there is Olivia Williams. A proud graduate of Detroit Public Schools, Olivia has overcome obstacles that most would never know. College was always her priority, as she wanted to become a doctor.
Despite tall odds, Olivia made sure she kept her high school grades up and participated in every sport and extracurricular activity the school offered. When it was time to get letters of recommendation, teachers were more than happy to write them.
Olivia attended Finney High School, located in one of the roughest areas of the city. A police bus was parked on school grounds every day in case officers needed to intervene with students who were a threat to others. This I witnessed personally; Olivia is my niece.
Olivia often acknowledged that had it not been for teachers and counselors both in high school and now at Western Michigan University’s Sieta program, she would have never made it. It was the thought of all of the people who had supported her that gave Olivia the confidence to change her major from bioengineering to education.
Olivia struggled with the thought of letting down her mom, who always said she would be a doctor. Her mother passed away suddenly of cancer in 2004. Her dad had been out of her life due to incarceration. She became the mom of her two youngest siblings as well as her two oldest. Olivia found her solace in her schoolwork and sports.
It was a constant struggle. Pressing past the police busses parked outside her school daily and not to mention being struck by a moving vehicle on her 18th birthday. We had to go to court to fight for the right to receive the proper foster care services. All the while her fear was failing her family.
Olivia graduated from high school with a GPA of 3.85, enough to win her admission to Western Michigan University and the prestigious Sieta Scholarship, only for foster students, and the opportunity to have a home all year around despite breaks. Along with a few other scholarships, the funding would provide for her five and a half year stay at school.
Olivia’s journey continued to take tough turns. In the fall of her sophomore year, her dad died suddenly, and just as the two were forming a bond. In 2015, the grandmother who helped raise her lost her battle with cancer and passed as well.
There were nights when Olivia wanted to give up on her goals. “Auntie,” she would ask me, “how much more can I take?”
The only reply I could give her was this: “It is all meant to help others. Every hurt and pain will pay off.”
Look at her now, the first member of the family to receive a bachelor’s degree! Ever mindful of the role her education played in helping her get this far, Olivia plans to teach. At her graduation, she graced that stage with joy and eagerness to get to her students.
What excites me the most is that she has seen it all and Olivia is returning to Detroit in January. She has accepted a position as a 10th grade algebra teacher at Detroit Public Service Learning Academy. She is already planning on how she will structure her classes to make sure her students miss nothing.
Olivia Veunita Williams’ life is awaiting you; your students are awaiting you. Welcome to the village my dear, job well done. #Voices4Ed #ChoiceIsOurs #Education