After graduating from Miami Beach Senior High School, a 17-year-old Florida teen Ashley Adirika took an audacious step to apply to several Ivy League schools.
The idea was to take all her chances to finally fulfil her dream of attending an Ivy League School. So in late fall, she applied to not just one — but all eight of them.
Ashley waited eagerly till spring. Then one day, most universities announced they had sent out their first-year admission letters and she jumped on her computer. Ashley opened eight tabs on her computer — one for each school’s applicants portal.
First came one acceptance. Followed by another and another. In no time, she realized she had them all: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale.
This news was accompanied by a celebration and shouts for joy from her mother who emigrated to the US from Nigeria three decades ago and all family members. Each shout grew louder as the letters came in.
“I just decided to shoot my shot at all of them and see if it would land. And I had no idea that I would get accepted into all of them,” she says. “On Ivy Day, I remember crying a lot and just being extremely surprised.”
With this feat, Ashley joins an exclusive group: Since 2018, each Ivy League school has accepted less than 12% of its applicants. This year Yale accepted 4.5%, Columbia took 3.7% and Harvard accepted just 3.2%, the lowest number in the university’s history.
In addition, she also received admission into seven other top-rated schools, including Stanford, Vanderbilt and Emory.
In the end, she picked Harvard where will major in government.
Ashley admitted that she was conflicted between Harvard and Yale since her career aspirations were the final determiners. She aspires to learn how government works and how policies can help fix economic disparities in communities.
“Before the college application process, Yale was my top choice. But when I did further research for what I want to do specifically, which is explorations in policy and social policy and things of that nature, Harvard just had a better program,” she says.
Debate coach at nearby Carol City Middle School, Bess Rodriguez who recruited Ashley for the team when she was in the eighth grade was full of praise for her.
“She was such an immediate force on the team, the other students were scared of debating her,” she says. “She was very smart and articulate. Some of the debate topics were so sophisticated, like should the US sell arms to Saudi Arabia. She dug into the material, she was always so well prepared.”
“The other students would say, ‘Oh no, we have to debate Ashley.’ College debaters and local attorneys would come up to me and say, ‘Wow, we can’t believe she’s in eighth grade. She should be an attorney’ recounts Rodriguez, who also teaches English at the middle school.
Ashley plans to join the debate team at Harvard and hopes to go to law school after she completes her undergraduate studies.
But what she’ll do with her law degree “remains up in the air”.
“I am really passionate about policy and using policy to empower communities. And so in the short term, for me, that looks like becoming a lawyer,” she says. “But in the long term, I want to use that as a platform to do work in policy.”
There’s one thing Ashley’s pretty sure about: She plans to continue making an impact beyond her campus.
Starting an organization
In high school, she started Our Story Our Worth, an organization that provides mentorship, confidence-building and sisterhood to girls and young women of colour.
“When I was in elementary school, I had the privilege of being a part of a mentorship program for girls. I was mentored by women in college and they taught me important skills, instilled confidence into me and gave me the outlet I needed to express myself. I will never forget the sense of solace that their support gave me,” she wrote on the organization’s website.
“Unfortunately, as I … continued into middle and high school, that sense of solace began to fade. There was a lack of programs available for girls, much less those of colour.”
Our Story Our Worth works with girls and young women in the Miami community, but Ashley hopes to expand it across the country.
She attributes her work ethic to the women in her life, including her mother, a single mom to five children.
“She has just instilled in me the value of education and working hard, as well as all of the strong women in my life, like my older sisters,” she says. “For me, it’s about making the most of the opportunities that I have at my fingertips and really just making sure that the sacrifices that have been made for me weren’t done in vain.”
At her high school graduation, Ashley gave a speech before the students received their diplomas. Wearing a sash with the words “Black Girl Magic,” she highlighted the importance of preparation, punctuality and finding light even in dark times.
As she prepares to report to her new home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in August, she’s stashed all the acceptance letters and miniature flags she received from different schools in a keepsake box as a reminder that big dreams do come true.
As for the sweatshirts and hats she got from all the Ivy League universities – She gave them out to her nieces and nephews. That way, she says, they’ll have a visual reminder that they can do it, too.