The Pressure & Power of Being a First-Generation College Student

In a discussion with a good friend, I was explaining how terrified I was to attend college. In high school, I knew I wanted to go to college, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I really thought it could happen. I attended Hogan High School in Vallejo and we lived in an area that was considered underserved. While I had an amazing high school experience, when you are the first person to attend college in your immediate family, there is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and an overwhelming fear. The fear is rooted in the fact that no one in your family chose the college route so how could you. I lived with so much fear and we all know how damaging negative thoughts can be. One some awkward and crazy level, I felt like a traitor because I was doing something different. In reality, my family wanted me to do something different. During the college selection process, I was surrounded by people that encouraged me to think beyond my current situation and to think bigger and better than I ever have. It’s still scary!

For years, I lived with thoughts of failure. I didn’t want to disappoint my mom who worked so hard to help me reach my goals. I didn’t want to be a failure to my family if I didn’t make it in college. I didn’t want to fail myself! Being a first-generation college student can be laden with pressure. You can feel like the weight of the world or at the very least the weight of your family, is on your shoulders. For many of us coming from “the ghetto”, we aspire to remove ourselves and our families from the hood. We think about buying a new, fancy home for our family. We think about having a great job and being able to support our family, not just ourselves, but our family. We think about having more and that college is the means to get us there. There is so much pressure to be great.

When I started college, I was very fortunate to go through an EOP program called Summer Bridge. The program really helped me to transition from a high school student to a college student. I was introduced to college life before the school was overrun with students and faculty. During this program, I met some amazing people and was surrounded by supportive people, both students and staff alike. It was amazing. Almost all the students that participated in Summer Bridge were minorities and I felt comfortable with my school selection. I had friends BEFORE the first day of school! Woot woot! The 30 or so Summer Bridge participants had formed an amazing bond and throughout our college experience, we were there for each other in so many ways. Twenty years later and I am still grateful for the EOP program and advisers at Sonoma State.

As a side note: I just recently graduated with my MBA from Sonoma State University and I regularly see one of the EOP advisers that was helping students in my class. After 20+ years, he is still helping students be successful. It is a true testament to how much they care.

One thing I learned during my time at Summer Bridge was to accept the power in being a first-generation college student. I clearly remember my EOP adviser, Arturo, telling me that I will inspire the children in my family to follow in my footsteps. Initially, I thought he had gone mad. Why would the other kids want to be like me? He told me twenty yeas ago that I had the drive to be successful and I would be great in this world. While I wanted to believe him, I continued to doubt myself. He encouraged me to encourage others to believe. He encouraged me to accept the power I held. He encouraged me to do great things. I wish I could sit with him now and tell him that I was listening. I wish I could tell him that I have continuously encouraged our next generation to attend college. I wish I could tell him how proud I was when my baby cousin decided to attend a state university and asked me for advice or when she graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice. I wish I could tell him that my nephew is in college now and will be graduating next year. I wish I could tell him Thank You!

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