Being a first generation college graduate, they call it the gift and the curse. The first in the family to go to college. The first to try to navigate a new and foreign experience. The first to have applied to college, the first to submit the FAFSA, the first to step foot on campus and have no clue where lecture hall 201A is on campus. As you progress as a first gen student, you start to understand the complexity of higher education. And hopefully with a good support system you progress towards degree completion. Yes, there are some stumbles, hurdles to jump, and even breaks on the way, but you don’t give up, you keep pushing forward. You cross the finish line, and walk across the stage with a degree in hand.
So what do you do with that college experience?
What’s expected of you by your family after graduating?
How do you utilize your experience/education to make it easier for other first gen students in your community?
For me, it started with a phone call from my grandmother. She let me know it was my responsibility to help everyone else get to college. I’d get a phone call from my cousin in Texas who needed help with the college process. Then my number was forwarded to all my cousins and distant relatives I’d never heard of. Soon people at my church knew I went to college, and boom, I’m holding a “college-going” session during vacation bible school. What seemed like just talking, just sharing an experience, and helping others make the transition from HS to college, was really about building the academic and social capital of my friends, family, and community. With the privilege of being a college graduate, the first in many of my circles, was also having the “curse” of sharing your knowledge. It was required of me. But what was the curse? Struggling through college and learning by trial and error? or being the one always sought after for help with anything related to college?
To this day, I’m still sharing my experience with family. The expectation is I am their college counselor. Which in retrospect, maybe why I entered the college outreach and admission counseling profession. Now my brother is a senior in high school. Processes like submitting the FAFSA, that once took days to understand and provided lots of headaches, takes 20 minutes now. The fear/anxiety of letting a student moving away for college is lessened because I moved away and was successful. In a few weeks, I’m meeting with my 9th grade cousin and we are discussing a pathway to college.
When I was younger, I thought it was a curse to have been a first gen student. Always having to explain things, put my experience out there, and hold the burden of helping my family get to college and be successful. Now, I realize it’s a gift. I realize I’m lucky to be able to share my experience and empower others to achieve their goals. All this time, I had been building community cultural wealth among my family and friends, think it was a curse, when it really was a gift.