On an uncharacteristically pleasant summer evening, campus was quiet at Georgetown University. You’d have been hard-pressed to find a student or two roaming the grounds Wednesday night.

That is, until you reached the Healey Family Student Center, which was buzzing with 40 excited young women getting ready to graduate from the Girls Who Code summer immersion program.

The graduates and their loved ones gathered to hear representatives from Software.org: The BSA Foundation and Salesforce speak, show off the fruits of their labor, and, most importantly, receive their diplomas. The graduating class was made up of two different Girls Who Code classrooms.

“In my engineering class [at school], there’s only three girls in the whole class, and the girls don’t really have important roles when working with [the boys] because there’ll be only one girl with several other boys, and girls won’t have a voice in what the group decides. ” said Heying Zhang, 17, from Chapel Hill, N.C.

Girls Who Code graduate Giuliana Weiss presents her final project.

Zhang decided to spend her summer in D.C. so that she could participate in the summer immersion program.

“So, I think it’s really inspiring that I come here and see more girls doing technology stuff, and that my voice is heard, also,” she said. “I think it really encouraged me to pursue a path in STEM.”

The two classes had been working for the last couple weeks on their final projects, combining their favorite units from the summer to build apps, websites, and in one case, a phone-charging robot.

Sally Philpott and Alice Xue created the “Solar Stalker,” a small robot that uses light dependent resistors to seek out light. Solar panels power up the attached phone charger.

One girl, Giuliana Weiss, presented an app she built called “Spectrum,” a dictionary for LGBTQ terms. Inspired by her asexuality, she said it’s important to her that people have a resource to better understand “what it means to be transgender or gender fluid, for example.”

The graduating class heard words from Georgetown University’s Vice President and Chief Information Office Judd Nicholson, Software.org Executive Director Chris Hopfensperger and keynote speaker, Toya Gatewood, a Salesforce Certified Administrator and two-time Salesforce MVP.

“There’ll be plenty of people who will doubt you because you’re a woman, because of what you look like or where you’re from, but you never doubt yourself, and you never give up.”

Originally from Flint, Mich., Gatewood became pregnant right before her senior year of high school. She graduated in the top of her senior class, she said, and started college with a 6-month-old infant. After eventually relocating to Ohio to work as an administrative assistant, she moved to D.C. to work for Salesforce.

Gatewood was the first black woman to receive the Salesforce MVP honor.

“Don’t give up, even when you make mistakes,” she said. “There were plenty of times in my life when I could have given up, either because of bad decisions that I made or things that were outside of my control. But one thing that I always had, and maybe some others didn’t, was perseverance — and you have that.”

“There’ll be plenty of people who will doubt you because you’re a woman, because of what you look like or where you’re from, but you never doubt yourself, and you never give up.”

Top Image: Girls Who Code summer immersion program instructors welcome guests to the graduation ceremony. (Photo by Elisa Wiseman)