Zaniya Lewis: Overcoming Obstacles While Pursuing Your Education

June 8 - On The Dot

FIRST THOUGHT: Taking the High Road

As I stood in line to check out at the grocery story, the cashier asked the pregnant woman in front of me, “Is it a boy or a girl?” “Boy,” she replied. The cashier, a middle-aged man, responded with a chuckle, “Good! Women are taking over the world!” Before a child even enters this crazy, mixed-up existence, so many expectations are thrust upon him or her. While I could spend all day detailing the sexist stereotypes we each face from day one of life, I’ll settle for paraphrasing this sage quote from the always sharp-witted Oprah Winfrey: Excellence is the best deterrent to sexism.


When women started going to college, plenty of ignorant dudes surely made more than a distasteful comment here or there. Fortunately, modern women can pursue a higher education without fear of reprisal. And they’re doing so in great numbers. In fact, women made up more than half of all college students in the U.S. in the 2015–2016 academic year. But they’re also paying a steep price. According to research firm ORC International, 42 percent of women have accumulated more than $30,000 in university debt, compared with only 27 percent of men who owe that much.

WOMAN TO WATCH: Zaniya Lewis, Founder and Executive Director of Yes She Can Campaign

Today’s entrepreneurial-minded Woman to Watch, Zaniya Lewis, is here to help women traverse college life with poise, self-confidence and a winning attitude. All it takes is a little community and encouragement.

To say Zaniya is a change-maker is an understatement. While studying political science at George Washington University, she witnessed firsthand the obstacles many women face when pursuing higher education. But she wasn’t about to just sit back and let it all wash over her. Instead, this ambitious gal started the Yes She Can Campaign during her freshman year of college, providing a figurative and literal stage for women to share how they successfully pursue education despite adversity. The organization features the stories of collegiate gals from throughout the country on the Yes She Can Campaign blog, and also offers workshops and hosts panels for girls about to enter college life.

Her campaign has grown exponentially, catapulting Zaniya into becoming what I dare say is the voice of a generation. She’s been featured on just about every news outlet imaginable and has earned lots of accolades. Back in 2016, former first lady Michelle Obama teamed up with Seventeen magazine to host the Better Make Room campaign, which encouraged girls to work hard in high school so they could excel in college. The magazine asked readers to submit essays about how they overcome obstacles. Naturally, Zaniya was a co-winner and had the opportunity to interview the first lady herself. Yowza!

Just a year later, the Yes She Can Campaign held its first Sparkle Summit, in 2017, and all young women were welcome to listen to inspiring panelists and participate in motivating workshops. And through the organization’s Spotlight series, female high-school and college students can share their stories, providing some inspiration to other girls who may be struggling with similar challenges while striving to complete their schooling.

Zaniya’s overall message is simple but powerful: Whatever a girl wants to do and become, yes, she can!

And now, click here or go to and check out these five need-to-know tips for preparing for your upcoming exams.


During a conversation with Zaniya Lewis, Michelle Obama gave some real-world advice:

“I always tell people the question of what you want to be when you grow up is one that you will eternally be answering. I’m still asking myself that question! What am I going to do when I leave here? How do I want to impact the world? I’ve gotten used to the fact that I don’t have to know. I’m always going to be discovering new parts of myself, and you’ll find that you will be too.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

To learn more about our conversation, check us out at and talk to us @OnTheDotWoman on Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to hear your voice.

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