First generation college students beat the odds

Brianna K family

By Brianna Kurzynowski |

I cannot remember the exact day or year that I told myself that I would go to college. But for as long as I remember, I applied myself to the fullest in order to reach my goal of graduating high school and getting accepted to college.

When my mom graduated high school, she decided to go straight into a career. She always told me she was never the best student, so school was not for her. My older sister, Ashley, started at the local community college once she graduated high school. But like my mom, Ashley did not have the passion to finish school. After only one semester, she dropped out and starting working full time.

My mom and my sister have both been inspirations to me my whole life. I’ve looked up to both of them during times of confusion, sadness, happiness and for everything else. My sister, five years older than me, dropped out of college when I was in eighth grade. Maybe that’s when it hit me, but from that moment on I think I realized I had to go to college.

I say “had to go to college” because I felt the responsibility to take care of my family in the future since they took care of me my whole life. I have always wanted to do my best and be successful in school so I can give my mom what she deserves for raising two kids on her own.

I will be the first person in my immediate family to graduate college, and I am not alone. Roughly a third of undergraduates are first generation college students, according to the 2012 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

Recently, I met two other students who are first generation college students.

Karina Aragon, a junior Exceptional Student Education major, will also be the first in her family to graduate college.

“I chose to go to college because I have always known I have wanted to be a special needs teacher,” Aragon said. “In order for me to be the best teacher to my students, I myself need to receive a topnotch education.”

Aragon’s parents did not attend college.

“My father never got to go to high school,” she said. “He is from Costa Rica and is one of 15 siblings, when it came time for him to go to college, his mother told him that she only had the money to send him and his sister to school.” Her father gave up his chance to go to college for his sister and he went off to work.

Her mother is also from Costa Rica and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 14.

“My grandfather did not want her to go to college,” she said. “My mom got a full ride to the college of her dreams, and my grandfather did not let her go.”

“I felt like I was in a dream,” Aragon explains when speaking of her first days at college.

Aragon said walking across the stage on graduation day “is going to feel surreal. It won’t hit me until I don’t have to wake up at 6 a.m. for registration.”

Yasmeen Anis, a sophomore Elementary Education major, is also a first generation college student.

Anis said her parents always pushed her to go to college because they did not have the chance.

“My dad only went to elementary school,” she said.

Anis said she and her family are going to feel proud when she walks across the stage at graduation.

“I will feel a sense of accomplishment being that college was a challenge for me being a minority and my parents not attending,” she said. “I will have proved against the statistics.”

First generation college students face challenges including poor academic preparation, family responsibilities and working full time along with attending school, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

My college experience has been similar to these two girls’ experience. There was a lot of crying on move-in day from both my mom and me. College will end in a full circle: My mom will be crying as I walk across the stage, shake President Abare’s hand and accept my diploma. I will feel accomplished because I will have made it out, against all odds.

As I think back to junior and senior year of high school I remember my friends, whose parents have all graduated college, knowing everything they needed to know for college. They knew what school they would be attending, how they were paying for tuition and what they were majoring in.

Unlike them, I knew going into my later years of high school I would struggle to answer the questions my friends easily could about college. It seemed they were taking the chance to attend college for granted.

As for me, not one day goes by where I take it for granted. When I graduate in a year, I will be able to check one more task off my bucket list and feel elated.

Graduation day will be one of the best days of my life.

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