In today’s society, going to college is an expectation. Growing up a first-generation college student, I came to realize that education is a privilege, one that not everyone has the fortune to obtain.
One of the struggles that come with being a first-generation student is that my parents were totally clueless about the process of applying to college. This put a lot of responsibility on me to research what I needed to do to get where I wanted. If you had rubbish high school counselors like me, then the only person you could turn to for help was Google. The college application process was a learn-as-you-go experience for me and one that I am extremely glad is over.
Being an ambitious first-generation student makes everything even more arduous. As previously mentioned, my counselors were terrible. If you weren’t going to an in-state school, they were as clueless as I was. So on top of tackling the college application, I had to overcome the “realists.” Now, I would consider myself a realist, but not many people thought my goals were very realistic.
For starters, I didn’t have a back-up school, mostly because that would mean applying in-state and there was no way I was staying here under any circumstances. I feel that this was not a hindrance, but a motivator. I worked twice as hard knowing there was no safety net. I would not recommend this for everyone, but I’ve always worked better under pressure.
There’s this phenomenon we talked about in one of my classes last week called the “Cycle of Poverty.” What this means is that endless generation after generation are stuck in poverty because they are born into it. This same theory can be applied to education. If you’re born into a family with low expectations, low income and minimal resources, it’s easy to throw in the towel and acquiesce to your circumstances. For me, succumbing to this cycle was more of a burden than maintaining my grades. I constantly felt the reality of my situation and fear of failure settled in my heart like a stone. When I got my acceptance letter, for the first time in my life, for a brief moment, I felt that stone dislodged.
I feel it’s necessary to note that there are virtues to be found in being a first generation college student as well. As I have illustrated, adversity is a catalyst for steadfast determination and maturity. Out of necessity, I grew to have conviction in my dreams because no one else could see them. I learned that I am not defined by my family and only my actions can define my identity. I worked harder, I studied longer and I grew stronger because it felt like I had more to lose. I wanted to succeed, not just for myself, but for my parents as well.
They loved me, they raised me and, most importantly, they believed in me. They did not raise me to see myself as a “first generation” student. I had never even heard of that term until high school. One of the most ironic things about my experience is that most of the negativity about my circumstance came from outside of my home, from people who had no right to tell me what I could and could not accomplish. My parents supported my dreams because they wanted to see me break the cycle and I wanted to succeed to show them that they didn’t need a college education to raise an intelligent child. Needless to say, the application process has been both an intellectual and emotional trial.
Being a first generation college student has opened my eyes to the value of education. However, it has also shown me, through my parents, that those who were not fortunate enough to receive one are not deficient in faculty. My parents are capable of great intelligence and I owe as much of my education to them as I do my teachers.
Although being a first generation college student is a burden, it creates a unique community of people. We’re phoenixes, reborn into the world of education and breaking the cycle of our parents. We create our own cycle of prosperity and wisdom, something we can share with future generations so they will have more than Google to get them through their senior year.
Lead Image Credit: La'Kay Hodge