A recent high school graduate just accomplished a miraculous feat — and her path to one of the world’s most prestigious colleges is the American dream personified. Thirty years ago, Ashley Adirika’s mother emigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria. She raised five children, including Ashley, who became known in school for her excellent grades and outstanding speaking skills.
“Everybody knew Ashley because of how smart she was,” Bess Rodriguez, a teacher at Miami’s Carol City Middle School, who heads the speech and debate teams there, told ABC News of her former student. “She had test scores through the roof; she’s involved in all different activities. So I recruited her, and she had never debated before.”
Ashley, now 17, has said that her time on those teams helped her build self-confidence, which eventually led her to become president of her student body.
“I’m someone who loves to learn new things, and so debate gave me that opportunity,” Ashley, a recent graduate of Miami Beach Senior High School, told ABC News. “But more than anything, it just gave me the platform to talk about things that I believed in and talk about things that were important to me. And so that is something that I am just forever indebted to Carol City for introducing me to that platform.”
— Miami-Dade Schools (@MDCPS) June 3, 2022
When the time came to choose a college, that confidence led her to apply to several different institutions, including all eight schools in the Ivy League.
“I just decided to shoot my shot at all of them and see if it would land.” Ashley told CNN. “On Ivy Day, I remember crying a lot and just being extremely surprised.”
Ashley was surprised because she not only got accepted to one of the prestigious schools, but every one of them. Given one of the toughest choices any outgoing senior has ever faced, Ashley chose Harvard despite initially leaning toward another iconic university.
“Before the college application process, Yale was actually my top choice,” she told CNN. “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.”
The teen is one of just 3.2% of applicants accepted by Harvard this year, the lowest number in the university’s history. She plans to join the debate team at Harvard and eventually hopes to attend law school.
“I am really passionate about policy and using policy to empower communities,” Ashley told CNN. “And so in the short term, for me, that looks like becoming a lawyer. But in the long term, I want to use that as a platform to do work in policy.”
She has already used that passion to make a difference, founding Our Story Our Worth, an organization that provides mentorship to girls and young women of color, while she was still in high school.
Ashley credits her mother with helping her succeed.
“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,” Ashley told CNN. “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.”
The Miami Herald reported that she’s not the only member of her family to have earned acceptance at an Ivy League school. Ashley’s older sister, Tracy, got into Princeton but turned it down to help raise her younger siblings.