“She got married to who…wait, when did this happen? Hold on…WHEN is the baby due?” I must have sounded like a broken record after a while; catching up with friends from back home in Arkansas took a decided shift around junior year. My classmates and I were now in our early twenties, and more than a handful of them had started getting married. And having babies. And starting this “adult life” thing that Pomona College definitely shielded me from. It was still new and exciting, but it was no longer taboo. It wasn’t teenage pregnancy, and they had jobs with benefits and real engagement rings and parental approval. Times were changing, and yet…I was still in school with no babies on the horizon and even less of a “husband” prospect. When they told me that going to college as a first-generation student was pioneering and praiseworthy, they didn’t mention that my friends may not do the same thing. In all my advancement and higher education pursuit—how in the world did I end up so behind?!
This is one side of the coin. The other side involves the opportunities at Pomona that were completely new and mind-boggling for me. The professors who challenged me and the classes that left me somehow simultaneously frustrated and yet, hungering for more. The countless number of books that allowed little time for “personal, pleasure reading,” but still helped broaden my knowledge base and formulate what I wanted to do for a career post-college. The friends that I stayed up studying with until 2 AM to the point of delirium…the same friends that sang to me on my birthday and screamed with me until we lost our voices at the Magic Mountain theme park. I was learning how to network and hand out business cards…how to compose myself at research conferences and ask for recommendations properly…even how to manage a residential dorm of students as a Head Mentor. But back home, I was a little behind. My manager from my old job asked me over Christmas Break, “So when are you bringing a husband back home to visit?” Well, hate to be a disappointment…but…I can show you my superb grade marks from the last semester!
As a first-generation student, there are several types of new experiences that you’ll encounter; most likely, some life-altering event or milestone will occur with every year of college. It’s nothing to consume yourself with worry over, especially since there are others who came before you. Still, there are some realizations that may arise later on that you didn’t think to be concerned about early on (with good reason). I always just wanted to earn good grades, test well, and be engaged with extracurricular activities so that I could get accepted to college. Babies and marriage were nowhere on the horizon…and that was perfectly okay. Even now, it’s still okay…but there is also the alternate reality that the people I grew up with are entering a very different stage of life that I won’t be traveling down for at least another 5 years. Some of their children will be starting kindergarten! My last piece of advice for this little blurb is that reaching out to others is VERY important when you have these realizations. Professors and older mentors included. You may be surprised to find out what faculty members were also first-generation or low-income, and how much knowledge they have to share about their own experience. Don’t think that anything you’re worried about is too silly to ask—as a mentor of mine often said, “A closed mouth don’t get fed.” My best friend is a Latina, first-generation, pre-med student from Houston, Texas with a long-term boyfriend. Her family has started asking how soon after graduation will the wedding be…and all she can do is politely laugh & offer to show them her superb grades from last semester. So maybe we are a little behind in some regards; I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. When I do get married and have children, I will have my college memories to share…all the late-night studying and trips to theme parks and frustrating classes…and I will be able to talk with them about the application process, financial aid, and how to choose the right school. Being the first in your family is not always easy, but starting a legacy is something to be proud of…in many regards. Maybe I’m not behind…perhaps I’m just being a “different little duck” as Mama is fond of saying.