I’d like to take a moment to really think about what it means to be a first-generation college student. For starters, at my university, it means that we are the first in our immediate family who will graduate from college. This means that we have to navigate through this “college thing” kind of alone. I emphasize “kind of” because if we use the right resources and develop a strong network at school then we can feel less alone. At home is a different story. Parents are a major part of non-first-gen students’ resources, but our parents struggle to help even when they want to. This is where that other part of the “kind of” comes in. At home we’re kind of alone because Mom cannot help file the FAFSA or help us get through verification (e.g., think W2 forms). Mom cannot register the right classes for us. Mom cannot tell us what we need to know in order to prepare for grad school. Instead, we have to navigate through all kinds of challenges that arise kind of on our own because Mom can only do so much.
I have had many challenges in the past year, but I am using my National First-Gen Day post to share all of the positives I have encountered instead. For example, I am here in college and I’m doing this. I am figuring out this college thing one step at a time and have the best VCU staff supporting me through it all. The networking all started with the 2017 Summer Scholars Program for first-gen students. The networks I have built since Summer 2017 are giving me the best opportunities and the best resources I could ever ask for. For example, I have become a mentor to first-gen freshmen; I have had lunch with the VCU President; I’ve attended the first-gen conference AL1GN in Washington, D.C.; I am a cofounder of the student organization You First at VCU; and I am a part of a first-gen motivational exhibit on campus (check it out here: https://news.vcu.edu/students/New_campus_exhibit_is_an_uplifting_showcase_for_firstgeneration)
Mentoring my four lovely first-gen freshmen is a constant reminder of how much I have been able to grow as a student here at VCU. These bright, sweet, and motivated young women ask me questions that I have answers to. I have helped them learn the importance of time management, self-care, networking, and more, all for which I had to search for guidance to figure out (after learning the hard way, of course). To be able to help them with seemingly small things like these is such a rewarding feeling. Through this mentoring program I get to take a course called Advanced Peer Mentoring and Peer Leadership. I feel like this course is an amazing opportunity to better develop my leadership skills and to guide me in helping my mentees make the most of their college experience through using resources here on campus the same way I have. I would not replace this mentoring opportunity for the world.
Having lunch with the president of VCU, Dr. Rao, has been one of the best experiences I had my freshman spring semester. I mean, how many freshmen at such a large institution can say that they have had lunch with their president? This lunch was valuable to me because I and nine other students were able to share with Dr. Rao how much certain first-gen programs and resources are making an impact on our college experience. I was also able to see that he and I have something very much in common: he is also first generation. When he shared that I thought, “WOW. If he was able to get to where he wanted to be as a first-gen, then I can to.” I also thought, “He knows what this feels like–what it feels like to have to figure out college on your own.” I suddenly felt like my imposter syndrome was gone. I knew I belonged in college in that moment. It was honestly an amazing feeling to realize that I do belong in college and that I can succeed no matter the challenges.
I went the the student-run AL1GN conference during my freshman spring semester. AL1GN stands for the Alliance for the Low-Income and First-Generation Narrative. First-gen speakers and college students from all over the United States attend. This conference is a way to get first-gens to build a national support system and to allow us to see that we are not alone. There are many of us figuring out college one step at a time together. This conference gave the VCU group of students who went the idea of coming together to create the student organization You First at VCU. So far it has brought many students together, and I can say it’s been a success.
Through the first-gen exhibit displayed in our library, I have been able to inspire other students at VCU. I and 25 other first-gen students have individual posters with our inspirational quotes. I have not only become famous through that poster, but I have also become famous through a VCU News article that features me in an interview. I was able to discuss what being first-gen is like through the story of how I got majorly lost on my first day of college. The point of talking about that experience was to share how scary that first day was but how amazing it is to be the first in the family to attempt college.
Although being first-gen can be hard, it has had many rewards. I can say I am making the best of my life journey and I am not even close to a quarter of the way through. I will end with the quote I put together for my portion of the exhibit:
Remember to always embrace your narrative. No matter how hard it gets, keep your eyes on the prize because you will be the beginning of a legacy.
Happy National First-Gen Day! Remember to make the best of being first-gen. Despite the struggles, you can always make it a good thing!