Former First Lady Michelle Obama. Academy Award winner Viola Davis. Grammy Award winner 2 Chainz. They differ in background, profession, and how they impact the world, yet they hold one distinct commonality: they are all first-generation college students who navigated society’s stereotypes. Whether we have dreams to become the next President of the United States or put an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, first-generation college students face a unique and unexpected set of challenges.
One of the many hurdles that we face is choosing a mentor. The biggest factors that go into choosing mentors is trust and time. Trust is the core building block to any relationship, while the rapport builds naturally over time. I considered three things when choosing my mentor:
- Transparency – someone who is going to be direct and honest.
- Confidentiality – someone who would not share any vulnerable information outside of the relationship.
- Reliability – someone who would be physically and mentally present during our time together.
Another hurdle that is continually setting us back is the lack of resources. We are required to be self-sufficient researchers on tasks that other students have had help with, such as the financial aid process or landing our dream internship. Learning how to utilize limited resources and maximize opportunities are key essentials to our success.
For example, school counselors told us scholarships were out there. Did you just do the research or did you do the research, apply, and check it off of your to-do list? And that internship you landed: did you just tell the CEO goodbye on your last day, or did you add them on Facebook and LinkedIn to establish your network? All-in-all, we cannot afford to become victims of our circumstances.
A part of being a first-generation college student comes with the huge responsibility of self-care and mental clarity. There will be times when you feel unsupported or misunderstood; times when you feel uncomfortable and out-of-place. Those moments are considered to be some of the darkest times of our life – but in dark times, we experience growth. I allowed my dark times to turn into moments of self-reflection and the search for inner peace. I ensured that my intentions were set in the right direction and watched how the light at the end of my tunnel began to brighten. It’s okay to start over. It’s okay to not know all of the answers. And it’s most certainly ok to push-back in order to seek peace.
During my 5-year college matriculation, I was introduced to people who wanted to see me succeed and was presented with opportunities that I was forced to maximize, all while maintaining my sanity. My exposure to college sparked my interest in social change and mental health – once I realized the significant amount of suffering first generation college students, I knew that something had to change within our communities and schools. So I became a beacon of hope for people who can’t see their light at the end of their tunnel. I shared my success but I also shared my struggles. I have failed many times but I also cherish those moments. As first-generation college students, it is our duty to carry the torch while continuing to maneuver through society’s expectations.
Here’s how you can carry the torch:
- Share your journey with your family and friends – the ups and the downs. It will reassure them how overcoming obstacles is challenging yet rewarding.
- Find a mentee – someone who is eager to learn and ready to take on the world.
- Smile regardless – smile at the stranger the subway. The cashier at the gas station. Spread joy.