This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
I had to think a bit before I could actually discuss what my experience as a first-generation college student has been like. If I could just think of one word that would describe it … nope, there’s not one! However, there have been various gasps of exclamation, as well as grunts and snarls of frustration and confusion at a process that, even now as a graduate student, I am barely starting to figure out. And, more than anything, there have been moments of breathless silence in amazement at what I have been fortunate enough to accomplish.
A good place to start is where I’m at now. I’m currently heading into the second year of my master’s program in educational administration in student affairs. A few years ago, if someone had ever asked me if I thought that I would go to graduate school, I probably would have been too afraid to even ask what a graduate program was.
I always knew I wanted to do something; I just wasn’t sure what that could be. I was never what some would describe as “book smart.” Family and friends always said I had this spark inside me, or that I would make it; even now, I still don’t know what that means. But, coming from a Mexican-American family that is all too versed in showing affection via tough love and familial taunting (which the smallest child usually endures), it was a compliment one does not forget.
I remember being in school and thinking that it was enough to just do the work because that seemed to be what mattered. So, that’s what I did. Whether I could do it well was a different matter altogether. However, I had the great blessing of being part of the Upward Bound program while in high school, and this program carried me through into my post-secondary career.
Through qualifying for Upward Bound and completing the program in high school, I was awarded a two-year scholarship to the local community college. While there, I knew I wanted more; however, I still wasn’t sure what that more was and I was still too afraid to ask. In the Latino household and the familial customs I grew up with, to ask something meant to question the validity of the author of the statement. Now that I am older and more educated, I understand that is not the case… well, except when I talk to my mother.
When I applied to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and was accepted, I just followed the instructions. It wasn’t until I was there a few weeks that I figured out that I had the right to question, to ask and to be in control of my education and of what I wanted. I had the power, and I deserved to be there. Coming from a background in which almost every hope or endeavor is based on “Si Dios quiere” (which means “If it be God’s will” it will come to pass), this realization has never left me. And, regardless of race, color, creed, religion etc., I believe that we all deserve to have the opportunity to learn, to explore and, most importantly, to question. If there is any parting advice I can give it is to never be afraid to question.