What does being a first-generation college student mean to you?
It is a badge of honor. I am proud that I was able to do it, and it has improved our family’s “lot in life.” It paved the way for my brother to attend college. After breaking the mold, so to speak, there was no question that my brother would attend college—it was expected! And it continues—my stepdaughter is a SUNY Oneonta graduate, and we fully expect that our 13-year-old daughter will attend college. Going to college and obtaining my degrees have directed my life down paths that would never have been possible if I had just went full time at my part-time job after high school. I would not trade it for anything.
What obstacles did you face in this context?
There are always the financial obstacles. My parents did not envision their sons going to college. Coupled with that, we were a blue collar working class family, so money was tight regardless. I was fortunate to excel at my studies in high school, and my local community college had a program where students graduating in the top 10 percent of their class could attend tuition-free. I also was awarded a few scholarships that paid for my books. So, with two years of college down debt free, I was able to make the transition to SUNY Oneonta with savings and assistance from my parents. Another obstacle is the general fear of being away from home and doing something that your parents, grandparents, and/or siblings have no prior experience with. A big part of overcoming this obstacle was the fact that I transferred along with another student from my high school class and community college program. So we faced that experience together.
What advice do you have for other first-generation students?
Not to sound cliché, but just do it. It can be intimidating to be first at anything, but the rewards are well worth the risk. While I appreciate my experience at the community college and the financial condition it left me in to better tackle the rest of my college career, I do regret not having four years at SUNY Oneonta. I feel I have a lesser connection than I would have liked to have. For example, being a transfer, I never lived on campus. I missed the dorm experience. If I could do it again, I would spend four years at SUNY Oneonta. College opens doors that may never otherwise be opened.