From one First Generation College Student to Another

As a first generation college student, I have to admit that college has definitely been a learning and trying experience for me. And as I prepare for graduate school, it does not seem like things are going to get any easier.

It’ a new ball game all over again. But I can still remember my first day of college back in August of 2001—and yes, I am a senior and proud of it. I earned that right of passage).

I think my parents were just as confused and scared as I was because for them it was their first college experience as well.

As I look back now, it was scary, but funny. I recall arriving in D.C. and watching tears roll down my mom’s face because on the way to Howard, we got lost and found our way to the campus through the infamous streets of southeast D.C.

Prior to that day, my parent or I had never set foot on a college campus, let along Howard University’s campus.

But eventually, we found our way to campus and our first stop was the Administration building to deal with all those freshman financial aid woes.  And it did not help that I did not complete my FAFSA until July, less than a month before school started. So of course, I wasn’t getting any free aid.

After leaving Financial Aid, I thought I would be leaving D.C. and headed back to Atlanta because my mom was furious after finding out that “unsub” loans were not grants and that we had to pay back that money.

I know, pretty funny, but according to my mother that is not what the lady in financial told her over the phone before we got there (and probably did, knowing how “special” those workers can be). I have to admit though, I was just as clueless as she was; which was not good because I was the one that had to stay there.

But that was just the beginning, and one of smaller errors on the list of mistakes that I would fill up over the next four years.  I won’t go into details.

Despite all of that, I would have to say that the hardest things that I feel I’ve had to deal with since being in school, is feeling a since on disconnection from my family.  And no, not in the sense that I miss them, it’s more than that.

It is like I don’t feel I belong and connect with them on a real level anymore. And I know all college students go through the “oh you think you somebody now because you go to Howard” or whatever school you go to or went to. It’s different than that.

I know all college students are under pressure from family, friends and other people from back home, but it seems that first generation college students have 10 times as much pressure.

Being the first person to go to college in your family, especially a black family, seems like you are already set up for failure. It’s kind of like a doubled-edged sword, while everybody is rooting for you, it also feels like they are rooting against you because of course they wish they had the opportunity to be in your shoes. 

And as black people we can sometimes be envious, and though we don’t do it intentionally, we are good at pushing a brother/sister down.

Eventually, I got to a point where I hated going home because of the way I was scrutinized and shunned.  Sometimes I even felt that if I heard one more person in my family or from back home ask, ”You too good for us now cause you in college?” or say “Excuse me, I didn’t go to college so I don’t know this or that.” I was going to drop out of school just to prove to them that I did not think that I was better to them.

It was hard because when I was at school I felt like I didn’t belong and when I went home, I felt the exact same way.  If only they knew how unhappy and stressed out I was. I would cry because I was so miserable. I even felt guilty at times for being in college.

I hated to hear my parents talk about how things were so hard on them with me being in college or just because that is how life is or getting the occasional update about how people who I grew up with had been killed, dropped out of school, or gotten pregnant.

I didn’t understand why I was one of the lucky ones. It just didn’t feel right, I had hung around those same people and done some of those same things they did (if not worst), but still I was able to be in school, and in good school, at that. It just didn’t seem fair.

But over time and after facing my demons, like all things, it got easier. I had a candid discussion with family members and other people that were making me feel this way. After some soul searching, I realized how I was contributing to these feelings that I was having.

So my advice to my fellow F.G.C.S.s, toughen up and don’t give up.

It is hard right now and won’t get easier any time soon because we are the first, and as the first we crossing boundaries and moving into new territory.

We are forging news paths and building bridges for future generations in our families and that is hard work, but it is worth it. Our diligence will make it easier for the younger generations, like our little sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews, children, grand children and so on. (And you might even inspire some people in your generation and prior to go back to school to get that education they’ve long yearned for).

Just remember two things: somebody has to be the light, why not let it be you.

“I will never forget my past because it prepared me for the present and I always will cherish the present because it holds gifts to my future.”