It takes a village to raise a first generation college grad

Being a first-generation college student is hard. You are building the bridge for your younger siblings as you walk over it. There are things you wish you could talk to your parents about, but you don’t think they would understand. You are navigating your new normal as best you can. You are learning things about you, about the people around you and about your new community at large.

From one #FirstGenGrad to another, there will be difficult days, there will be days when you feel like quitting. There will be days when you will cry or get so angry you feel like screaming or punching something. That feeling happens, and it’s OK.

Let me remind you of this: You are a part of a community where the goal is your success. If you feel like you are drowning, please ask for help. You know that professor or person in the office whom you connected with, the one who has been doing their best to help you, the one who you have great conversations with? Go to that person and ask them if they have a minute to talk. If you haven’t found your person yet, know that you likely will eventually, but in the meantime, you should go to the university counseling office; they are there to help you be the best college student you can be.

Another great way to make the best of your new normal is to get involved. Find on-campus activities you enjoy and join a group associated with that activity. If there is something you and your friends like to do, but there’s no group on campus for it, look into starting your own group. Make this college experience your own. Make it fit your life — you are paying lots of money for this. Make the best of it.

My most challenging class in undergrad was chemistry. I remember the day my chem teacher called my dorm room about a homework assignment I did incorrectly. I was in my room with my roommate and some friends. We just got back from dinner in the dining hall when my room phone rang. (This was before everyone had a cell phone, each student had a land line with a four digit room extension.) I answered the telephone and was surprised to hear my professor’s voice on the other end.

He realized I was trying, and he realized I was struggling, and he wanted to help me because he saw me trying to help myself. To this day, I am thankful, and I will never forget him — thank you Professor Tsang. I also remember Professor Stephens, who stood on the football field as we marched down to our seats for our commencement ceremony. Her face was wet from tears, her make-up was running, and she was smiling from ear to ear; she greeted each of us with hugs as she said, “my babies.” I will always remember that moment.

First generation college student, know that this journey you chose to embark on — this journey you worked so hard to get to — cannot be accomplished alone. Allow yourself to find your Professor Tsang and your Professor Stephens. Find that classmate who will share their notes with you if you miss a day and help you with the classes they understand but you struggle with. Be that person who will share your notes and help others. Find your place in your new home and make it the best experience you’ve ever had. Ask questions. If you need to, reach back and speak with your favorite teachers from high school (shout out to my Achievement Academy and Green Street Academy scholars).

If you need help, please ask us. We are your village. We are here for you, and we will do anything we can to help you succeed.

Melisa M. Hypolite is a college access advisor and founder and CEO of the Ready Initiative; her email is mhypolite@readyinitiative.org.

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