What does it mean to be first gen? Understanding how to help first generation college students has been a prevalent topic within higher education. I’m not sure I quite understood what this meant for me when I began my undergraduate journey. I don’t believe I knew what being a first gen college student even meant at that time. What I am choosing to focus on here, however, is beyond the first gen college experience. Today, I remind myself that I continue to be first gen. You see, to me, being first gen goes beyond graduating from college.
What I realized and strive to remind others of, is that being first gen comes with a huge responsibility. It goes beyond college and into your personal and professional life.
I found that what I am doing is changing the socio-economic status and the expectations to come for the future generations within my family.
It is no secret that the expectation for college graduates is to gain higher paying employment. However, it is also no secret that it takes time and hard work.
That hard work goes well beyond college, and it is hard work to be first gen. If you just sit and think for a minute, there is work and responsibility that comes with being the first college degree holder within your family. This is a tremendous accomplishment, it is a big deal! We should be celebrating beyond graduation day. For many of us, we move forward with thoughts of how to give back and help those that have helped us. There’s friends, family, loved ones that look to us as role models and for help with how they can do what we did. Our friends and family members have dreams of their own whether it is for themselves, their children or their own family members.
I’ve never stopped being first gen.
I also cannot speak of being first gen without talking about my identity as a Latina. As a woman, there have been further barriers to break through, such as the expectation of marriage and having children. It has baffled me how much society expects of women to take the traditional route. There are so many assumptions that come with this expectation.
I took the route that is still less traveled, traveled by many other Latinas, but still too few of us take this route. I decided to complete my education and work on my career before anything else. The thing is, if I had not, then I’d be less able to help others. I see it as my role and as the plan that was set for me. I am a person of faith and feel strongly that everything happens for a reason. Had I not taken this route, I wonder, who else would have. The reality is that its’ up to us. Whatever route we take, as we go further in life and as we accomplish, I see it as our responsibility to take others with us and help along the way.
Being first gen is no joke, we are making a generational change, think about that. It is hard work.
By Rocio H. Fajardo, Ed.D.