I’m Celebrating First-Gens Because I Am One

May 22, 2018 12:00:00 AM


We all know the journey to—and through—college isn’t easy. It can be especially difficult for first-generation students who are the first in their family to attend college. I know this because I am a first-generation college graduate myself. I’m the proud daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, and was the first person in my family to graduate from college and graduate school. My education allowed me to get to where I am today.

What Would Michelle Do?

One simple but effective way to support first-generation students is through College Signing Day. All this month, schools and communities across the country have been celebrating their own College Signing Days. They host assemblies, encourage students to wear their new college shirt or hat, and cheer them on as they announce their plans for the future to their classmates and school. Former first lady Michelle Obama, a first-generation college graduate herself, started celebrating College Signing Day in 2014, and she’s still doing it.
You’re going to get to college and you’re going to struggle sometimes, because we all struggle...When you hit those roadblocks, when you have trouble in that class, when you feel like you’re falling behind, you have to ask for help...No one gets through college on their own. —Michelle Obama, on May 2 at her fifth College Signing Day in Philadelphia
To see someone like Mrs. Obama share her personal story as a first-generation college graduate and talk about the struggles she faced while in school is powerful. Her words inspire students all over the country.

Tamir Harper

College Signing Day shines a spotlight on students like Tamir Harper, a first-generation college student who will be attending American University this fall. He plans to study political science and secondary education, and aspires to transform education in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Taylor Vidmar

Or students like Taylor Vidmar, who recently completed her associate degree at Richland Community College and is going to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this fall.

Jenny Ha

Or students like Jenny Ha, a first-generation college student and daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, who is going to attend the University of Southern California on a full ride.

Jasir Arms

Or students like Jasir Arms. He’s the first person in his family to graduate from high school and attend college, and will be going to Pennsylvania State University this fall. He shared that “the struggle is what makes me work as hard as I do.” He also states that his education will allow him to be “the one that moves [his] family out of the struggle.”

Daisy Torres

Or students like Daisy Torres, a first-generation college student and daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, who will be attending Princeton in the fall. She shared that she was “told [she] shouldn’t even consider applying to Ivies.” Now, she is thrilled to share that she will attend “the alma mater of the empowering and inspirational Michelle Obama!”

Building a Movement

I see College Signing Day celebrations as essential to building a college-going culture. It is building a movement that uplifts and inspires students—especially first-generation students—emphasizing that getting some form of degree after high school should be the goal for every young person in America. It’s also a big day for these seniors. It’s beautiful to see students all over the country light up as they receive the local and national attention they deserve for committing to attend—and most importantly—graduate from college. Then I think of all the young people who start to think that college is for them because they are inspired by their peers and look forward to becoming one of those students announcing their plans for the future. Now that is what College Signing Day is all about. https://www.facebook.com/BetterConversationBetterEducation/videos/805573016308062/
Photo courtesy of author.

Merone Hailemeskel

Merone Hailemeskel serves as the Director of Communications and Digital Strategy for Reach Higher and Better Make Room. In this role, she builds and executes the communication, digital and outreach strategy used to inspire students to pursue and complete a postsecondary education. As a Policy Advisor, Merone co-leads Reach Higher’s undermatching research efforts and is responsible for managing and awarding grants to support public school teachers and counselors for College Signing Day. Additionally, she is responsible for the selection and management of the Better Make Room Student Advisory Board. Merone earned a B.A. in Economics and an MPP from George Mason University. She is a proud Virginia native.

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