Lashyra Nolen Last year became the first black woman ever elected as class president of Harvard Medical School (HMS).
Despite not seeing black women leadership reflected in society in general, Lash found inspiration in the strength of the women around her. Born in Compton, Los Angeles Lash’s mom had her when she was only 18 years old. But as a single mom, she got her masters, while working numerous jobs to support Lash’s dreams
“Mom pursued life with grit and a desire to win. She would tell me: ‘I’ll see you at the top,'” Lash tells Teen Vogue. She told her grandma she wanted to become a brain surgeon-slash-astronaut.
“My grandma would tell me that whatever I wanted to do, we were gonna make it happen,” Lash recalls. “After telling her I wanted to become a surgeon, she would tell me to protect my hands.”
Today, Lash is a Fulbright Scholar, activist, and an emerging leader in medicine.
Lash spoke to Teen Vogue about this moment in Harvard’s history and shares advice for black girls everywhere.
On been Elected as President
For me it means opportunity — opportunity in the sense that it will allow me to create a pipeline for others who look like me to hold positions of leadership at Harvard Medical School. When applying to HMS, I didn’t see people who looked like me in student council or positions of leadership at that level. I think it is important to show that black people can also be the face of a university.
Her Advice for Young Girls
Go get it. Our society has a way of implicitly reminding young black girls what they cannot achieve and what they cannot be, while explicitly giving the green light to white men. For those same reasons I almost didn’t apply to HMS. It wasn’t until my mentors told me that I was capable of being a student at a place like this. And there are so many young girls out there who are excellent and deserve access to opportunity, but won’t take the leap because society tells them that it’s not for them. So no matter how crazy it might sound, no matter if someone in your family has done it or not, just go get it, because you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
Her vision for the future of black women in leadership?
My dream is for black women in leadership to get the recognition, compensation, and opportunities they deserve. It breaks my heart to see brilliant, capable, black women in medicine not get tenure, or not be considered for promotions. One can’t help but wonder if they were white male[s], would the outcome be different? So, I guess my dream is for these women to be seen, celebrated, and recognized for their greatness at the same level as those around them. Once we do that, young black girls will know that they can too, because you can’t be what you can’t see.
On her role models
Off the top, my mom, always. She is easily the strongest person I know. She’s been the best example of the woman, leader, and mother I want to be in the future. Then I have to say Serena Williams, because she goes hard every time, no matter what her critics say. Even when she falls, she rises and ascends even higher. And of course, she’s from Compton! Then it’s Ida B. Wells, because she spoke the truth even when it put her life in danger. And that’s the level of conviction that I want to have behind my purpose in life. And Michelle Obama is elegance and brilliance personified. The way that she handled scrutiny and racism during her time as first lady, and even still found a way to make a profound impact in her role, is so inspiring to me. If I ever decide on a career in politics, her spirit is the one that I would like to embody.
She says this about failure
I applied to 10 colleges and was rejected from all but three. I failed my first chemistry exam in college. I retook the SAT three times. But I always knew who I was, who I was becoming, and who I wanted to be. There were so many moments in my life when I felt like my potential wasn’t matching my outcomes. And there are going to be many moments in my life where I will feel that again. But going through failure taught me how to be resilient, and the key to resilience is always remembering to stand back up when life knocks you down.