Thursday, June 28, 2012
I once sat in a presentation about First Generation college students, where two prototypes were presented: the over achieving first generation student, and the under achieving first generation student. There was no in between in this presentation a few years back – either you over worked yourself to act like you weren’t a first generation student and knew exactly what you were doing, or your struggled unsure of where to go and which offices to visit and how to maneuver college. I did not really agree with the presenter at the time, but he did make me think about this: as a first generation college student, where did I fit in?
I grew up in California to a single mother the oldest of three, and the third oldest among of fifteen cousins. My siblings and I went to parochial elementary and high school, where I struggled academically but always worked really hard and put in a lot of effort. Though no one in my family had been anywhere near a college campus, except to maybe root for a Midwest football team, college was never not an option.
I guess it is interesting, being that first person to go look at schools, to try to understand what FAFSA stands for, going on tours and not really comprehending the words or the reasons behind them, creating applications and paragraphs and having no one really recognize what it is that you are compiling. For me, I wanted to go far away to school, of course there was a dream for an Ivy League brick building that never really came true, but when I did finally move 3000 miles from home, everything changed. I was completely lost and confused, constantly wondering if I made the right choice.
I knew from Day One of our week long orientation that I was first generation. How had students known to apply for these scholarships I never found on the website? What was this language they were speaking about courses with their families? Where did they get this confidence it seemed like they had about not going to classes, being involved, challenging the status quo?
I eventually learned those things, and changed as a student, a friend, a person through my time at college. Maybe it was because I was 3000 miles from home in a new place for less than a month when 9/11 shocked us all. Maybe it was because I allowed myself to really think about who I was and challenge what I believed. Maybe it was because while I gave up trying to explain why all this work I put into leadership positions and on campus employment and ”outside stuff” to my family, I knew in my heart it was still how I made meaning of my college experience.
I know, however, for a fact that it was because of the work I did inside and outside of the classroom – the experiences and conversations, the highs and lows, difficulties and growth moments that led me to who I am. How could I not want to helps other students participate in that type of experience, watch that change unfold everyday as a student starts to believe in their true potential, begins to question their place and role in society, decides to make positive differences in their world? How could I not want to be the person that encourages and challenges and supports when sometimes students can’t get that from people who don’t see everything that college has to offer? How could I not want to give back to a profession that has given me such growth, meaning, mentors, friendships, and a career?
The student experience is one that is so precious, so life changing, so pivotal to the people we become. Every day, I get to be a part of that in someone else’s life. That’s impactful. That’s special. Maybe it makes me an overachiever – wanting to support students the way I was supported, desiring to help make their collegiate journey more powerful – to me, it just makes every day a little more worth it.