Ashley Adirika, a teen from Florida, has always wanted to attend an Ivy League school. So she applied to all eight of them in late fall, not just one.
Ashley opened eight tabs on her computer on Ivy Day, the fateful spring day when the prestigious schools all announce their first-year admission decisions. One acceptance letter was displayed. Then there was another. And yet another.
She eventually had all of them: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.
It was a strange experience for the 17-year-old, whose mother immigrated to the United States from Nigeria three decades ago. Ashley was surrounded by family members that day, including her four siblings, who squealed with delight at each new acceptance letter.
“I just decided to take a shot at all of them and see if it landed.” “I had no idea I’d be accepted into all of them,” she says. “On Ivy Day, I remember crying a lot and being completely taken aback.”
Ashley, who graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School earlier this month, is now a member of an exclusive club: Each Ivy League school has accepted less than 12% of its applicants since 2018. This year, Yale accepted 4.5 percent of applicants, Columbia accepted 3.7 percent, and Harvard accepted only 3.2 percent, the lowest percentage in the university’s history.
Ashley was also accepted to seven other top-tier universities, including Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Emory. She chose Harvard, where she will study government this fall.
Ashley claims she was torn between Harvard and Yale, but it all came down to her career goals. Her goal is to learn how the government works and how policies can help communities address economic disparities.
“Yale was actually my top choice prior to the college application process.” But when I did more research for what I want to do specifically, which is policy and social policy explorations, Harvard simply had a better program,” she says.
Ashley was a member of her high school’s debate team and served as president of the student council.
Bess Rodriguez, debate coach at nearby Carol City Middle School, who recruited Ashley for the team when she was in eighth grade, says the teenager has always been curious about how the world works.
Rodriguez claims that because she was such an immediate force on the team, the other students were afraid to debate her.
Ashley debated throughout high school and intends to join Harvard’s debate team. And, yes, she intends to attend law school after finishing her undergraduate studies.
Ashley is certain of one thing: she intends to continue making an impact beyond her campus. She founded Our Story Our Worth, an organization that provides mentorship, confidence-building, and sisterhood to girls and young women of color, when she was in high school. She claims that being on the debate team taught her how to articulate herself when speaking with members of the organization.
Our Story Our Worth currently 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, particularly her mother, a single mother of five children.
Ashley gave a speech before the students received their diplomas at her high school graduation. Wearing a sash with the words “Black Girl Magic,” she emphasized the importance of planning ahead of time, being punctual, and finding light even in the dark times.
Ashley enjoys playing flag football and writing in her journal when she is not thinking of new ways to empower girls in her community. She expresses her creative side by painting and writing music.
As she prepares to move to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in August, she keeps all of the acceptance letters and miniature flags she received from various schools in a keepsake box.
She says she’ll remember that big dreams do come true this way.
And what about the sweatshirts and hats she received from all the Ivy League universities she didn’t attend? She distributed them to her nieces and nephews. She claims that this will serve as a visual reminder to them that they, too, can do it.