Around this time of the year, many students are preparing to submit their college applications and anxiously await universities’ response in March. For first-generation students, this process is more meaningful because their families never had the privilege to pursue higher education. As a first-generation Bronco now awaiting graduation, I reflect on the feelings that high school seniors are experiencing while they prepare for college.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone works hard to prepare themselves for college but there is something extra special knowing that you are the first in your family to experience the pride and excitement of receiving an acceptance letter. This is especially true when you witness the hard work and sacrifices your parents endured to provide you with better opportunities that allow you to pave the way for others in your family.
As a first-generation student, I grew up knowing that my parents came to this country to give me a better life and better opportunities than what they had in Mexico. I was especially reminded of this because I was expected to “set the example” for my siblings and younger cousins.
I grew up surrounded by my extended family in Lennox, California, a small town near LAX. We lived in a small three-bedroom house with three families of five. My immediate family, which was a family of five back then, shared one small room where we managed to fit a bunk bed and a full bed. Although we didn’t have much, I was always grateful that I had my own bed. However, as our immediate and extended families grew, the adults decided it was time to upgrade to a bigger house.
In the new house, my parents decided that our now family of six would live in the garage in order to pay the least amount in rent and save up for our own house and that is exactly what they did. Seeing my parents struggle to provide a house for us, taught me the value of hard work and dedication at an early age.
Because I saw my parents struggle, the pressure was high for me to succeed academically in order to have better opportunities in life. The most challenging part was having a constant feeling of doubt, of not knowing if I was smart or hard-working enough to be the role model that everyone in my family needed me to be. I know that this is a feeling that many first-generation students can relate to because we grow up with an even bigger desire to make our parents proud, to let them know that every sacrifice has been worth it.
Throughout my years at CPP, I accomplished a lot I have to be proud of. This includes being on the Dean’s List a few times and creating lifelong friendships — but I am even prouder of every mistake I made and overcame. I’m proud of the fact that I had the courage to change my major from food science and technology, after having a job in the field and feeling unhappy. I’m proud that I made almost every mistake a college student could possibly make, because I will try my best to make sure no one in my family makes them again.
Thankfully, with the help, hard work and support of my parents I was able to be the first in my entire family to receive an acceptance letter from a four-year university. Opening that letter is a feeling that neither I nor my family will ever forget. Although it has been a bumpy road with many obstacles, I will soon be able to hand my parents the diploma they’ve been eager to hold.
My story is just one example among many of why acceptance letters are more valuable and significant to first-generation students. Those letters symbolize the end of generational patterns and a future with new opportunities for our families. Approximately one third of the students in the California State University system are the first in their families to attend college, an accomplishment they will be proud of forever just as I will. I am one of those students.
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