MIAMI -- First-generation Nigerian American Ashley Adirika became one of few prospective students to be accepted into all eight Ivy League universities.
"The tears just started to come out. Like they started to flow out," she said of her reaction to finding out. "My siblings and I were just really excited, like screaming, jumping around. It was crazy," she said.
From being a teacher to sitting in the Oval Office, Adirika's dreams have changed over time, but now she is focused on empowering young women of marginalized identities with her organization, Our Story, Our Worth, which she started as a high school sophomore.
She said she looks forward to learning more about herself, her place in the world and how to "maximize the impact" she has in empowering communities when she starts at Harvard University in the fall.
Adirika thanks her mother and older sisters for their role in inspiring and encouraging her to pursue her passions in life.
"They empowered me and supported me throughout the entire way. So whatever dream I have, big or small, they've just been my No. 1 fans," she said.
The recent Miami Beach Senior High School graduate and student government president also credits her time on speech and debate teams with building the confidence to make her voice heard.
"I'm someone who loves to learn new things, and so debate gave me that opportunity. 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," she said.
Bess Rodriguez, a seventh grade English language arts teacher at Carol City Middle School, recruited Adirika for the school's speech and debate team when she was in eighth grade.
"Everybody knew Ashley because of how smart she was. She had test scores through the roof; she's involved in all different activities," Rodriguez said. "So I recruited her, and she had never debated before."
She said Ashley, who added the speech and debate team onto her already full advanced academic course load, was hesitant at first but quickly became a "phenomenal" member of the team.
"When we went to debates, the other kids, when they saw her come in the room, they would say, 'Oh no, we have to debate Ashley.' You know, she just got a reputation like that," she said, adding that even lawyers and debate competition judges would praise Adirika for her skills. Adirika continued to excel, going on to join Miami Beach High's debate team.
Rodriguez remembered Adirika as an "exceptional" student with poise and confidence. She said she was not surprised when Adirika returned to Carol City to tell her about her college acceptances.
"It was just such amazing news," she said. "Other times you're frustrated, you're exhausted as a teacher. Then you have a student like Ashley come along and it makes everything worthwhile."