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A Letter to First Generation Graduates

Dear First Gen Grads,

When I was leaving for college, I didn't tell my mother. Slowly and silently, I packed up my room over the course of two weeks before heading out of state. My twin, who had also gotten a full-tuition scholarship, had done the same. My mind was made up, and I was too scared to face my mother's reaction or refusal to let me go. It wouldn’t be until my last day on campus, at my graduation, when my mother would be able to visit me at school for the first time.

Similar to you I’m sure, going away to college was one of the hardest decisions I had to make for myself. It would be a gateway to making tougher calls such as choosing where to work, where to live, and what to do with my income. Being a first generation graduate, when I returned home, I earnestly tried to reconcile who I’d become with who I’d once been. Between home and school, I felt like I was living two separate lives: I was growing into the kind of person I could look up to, but also trying to stay the same for the sake of those who needed to know nothing changed.

It didn’t take too long (only about a year and a half after graduating) to realize that I’d forgotten the key lesson college taught me: think for yourself. This concept seemed selfish, privileged. I couldn’t afford to think for myself, I thought. However, I realized that thinking for myself didn’t have to mean thinking only about myself. It just meant making decisions on my own. It also meant learning to live with leaving and choosing to come back.

You will have important decisions to make going forward. When making them, understand this: Your dreams will not always be that of your mother or father or family. And that’s OK. Your success will not always be their ticket to better circumstances. Your failures will not always be their worst fears coming true. Your dreams will be yours. Your success will be yours. Your failures will be yours. You will be responsible for how you live out your life. You will learn to tell yourself, “I am proud of you” when no one else knows what you’re proud of. You will accept the silences, the distances, the gaps and not let them consume you. You will lose people who will still be in your life. You will have new moments, new reasons and new regrets. You will give what little you have without being asked because you know what lack and loneliness feel like. You will have a history that will give you a unique outlook on the world and will ground you when you need it to.

It is my hope that you will live one full life. Your life. The life you deem best for you. Think for and of yourself, and be brave enough to take care of yourself before you take care of anyone else.

Congratulations on making it through and making it home—wherever home is for you.

In solidarity and support,

A Fellow First Gen Grad

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