Student Support Services (SSS) is observing the National First-Generation College Celebration during the week of Nov. 2 to 6. SSS, alongside the TRIO McNair Scholars Program, seek to assist and advise first-generation students throughout their undergraduate careers and provide support during their transitions into the  workforce or graduate school. This celebration honors students who are the first in their family to attend college. Events ranging from panels, speeches and celebrations will take place during the week. The Messenger sat down with three students from the SSS Board of Leadership to discuss their experiences as first-generation students and what they are celebrating this week.

What does being a first-generation student mean to you?

Ivet Reyes ’21, economics major: “The way I see it is as an opportunity to help out my family. First-generation means doing things my parents weren’t able to do. I also think about the emotional part of it. Growing up, I didn’t have anyone to help me with the college application process. And just last night, I was helping my little sister with her FAFSA application because she’s starting college next year. I’m a big family person, and I really focus on how my education can affect and benefit my family. I have always felt the want to make them proud, and I want to make sure that they know that all they’ve done for me, all their sacrifices, are worth it because I know they’ve done so much.”

Tenzing Sakya ’22, nursing major: “It means being a role model; being a first-generation student isn’t easy. In my case, I am actually the first girl in my family to pass high school. It means being a role model for other Tibetan girls. In the past, girls didn’t normally get to pursue education. I want to show that girls can do this. It’s a big expectation that our parents worked really hard, and now it’s our turn to pay them back and do well in school and, going on, in life. Both for my family and in the community. The pressure is a lot sometimes, but when I see how proud my community is, it keeps me going.”

Lori Tran ’21, psychology major: ” A lot of us are students basically pursuing education for our families, not just for us. We’re carrying our family as we chase that degree. Not just for ourselves, but everyone we’re supporting in the future.”

Where do you find support on campus?

Reyes: “My advisors and mentors for sure. Wendy from SSS, she always reminds me that although academics and extracurriculars are important, I have to worry about myself as well. I have to think about what comes next; she keeps me grounded. She has me think about what is coming next, and reminds me to recenter myself. And my family for sure; my mom always tells me that while she doesn’t understand exactly what I’m going through, she’ll always love me and be there for me.”

What advice would you give to fellow first-generation students?

Sakya: “One thing I didn’t do that I should’ve done was reaching out when you need help. For a lot of first-generation students, it’s ingrained that you need to figure it out yourself, that you have to struggle alone. It was hard for me to eventually realize that there are people who can help me. I was struggling my first year, and I just pushed on, but it’s good to realize that you can lean on others to push on as well. It’s just so ingrained that we fought so hard to be here that we have to always keep fighting, but there is support for us. You just have to make the first step to make that connection, and don’t be afraid to do that.”

What have you learned in your last four years?

Tran: “A lot of us doubt our success or ability to succeed or our ability to be here. I think the biggest thing I learned was that whatever space I’m in, I belong there. I don’t think a lot of people feel that. I think convincing myself that I belong here is what I learned.”

What are you celebrating this week?

Reyes: “I am celebrating that the number of Latinx college graduates is going up every year, and that I am a part of that. That I am one more Latinx woman graduating college. I am so proud of my community for everything that we have done on campus and in the nation as a whole. I am celebrating that, and that regardless of all our struggles, we can always find ways to make things work. First-generation students go through a lot and they really do have the ability to overcome the challenges and work really hard.”

Sakya: “I’m proud of being the first girl in my family going to college — that’s something I celebrate every year during this week. And also how far my fellow first-generation students have gone. I don’t want to just celebrate myself, but all of us.”

Tran: “There’s a lot of bad stigma surrounding being first-generation, especially being lower-class — “Oh, you need financial aid, you need more support because you don’t know.” I think a lot of us are afraid of people talking down to us, but for me, being in TRIO, I’ve always been proud. Of course I need help, but I take a lot of pride in the fact that I have so much support. So, this week is celebrating and thanking everyone who got to where I am today. So, I am celebrating TRIO, SSS, the McNair office. I am celebrating how much I have grown — it’s been crazy. And also my friends who have made it as well.”

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Tran: ” I think a lot of people don’t know other people’s stories. A lot of time, we compare ourselves, and this school can be so competitive, but we don’t know what people are dealing with outside of school. We don’t know what weight is on their shoulders or family events happening. There shouldn’t be a competition, and that’s a mindset I wish more people had.”


bermel1@stolaf.edu