First Class

Kudos To College Grads

There is something about firsts – winning first place; being the first; doing something for the first time.

Being first offers a sense of accomplishment, the result of hard work and tremendous perseverance.

But for those who are the first in their families to go to college, this first can be considerably more complicated. 

For many reasons – often financial and social – higher education isn’t an easy option when there isn’t the opportunity to rely on a family member with experience to help navigate the obstacles. 

The difficulty adjusting to college life, coping with being academically and economically disadvantaged and feeling an extreme sense of alienation are just some of the challenges many first-generation students confront.

Extensive studies show that low-income and first-generation students are more likely to be academically behind, sometimes several years in core subjects. They’re more likely to have to take uncredited remedial courses. And they’re more likely to face serious financial hurdles.

These challenges are sometimes so formidable that studies show only 8% of low-income (many of whom are first-generation) students will graduate college by age 25.

But many are able to seek out resources, find allies in unexpected places and create supportive environments to make it possible for them to earn their degrees.

Here, five women, who come from very different backgrounds, are profiled. They all will be the first in their families to graduate from college later this spring. 

These women have dedicated themselves to overcoming any and all challenges to earn their degrees. Their stories illustrate what personal conviction can accomplish. 

And it is easy to bet that with their dedication, determination and persistence along with their education, these women will accomplish and achieve so many more firsts. 




Major: Graphic Design, Purdue University-Fort Wayne

My parents shared a love for the arts, which I was aware of from an early age. I grew up listening to my father play guitar and write songs. My mom was always crafting, drawing and painting. When I was young, I saw her high school portfolio and was amazed by her artistic abilities. I saw how happy being creative made them. Their favorite subjects in high school were art and music. My dad decided to work instead of going to college and because my mom got pregnant with me, she couldn’t pursue college. I went to college right after high school but dropped out second semester of my freshman year. It was very overwhelming trying to understand financial aid, loans and what it meant to be a successful student. I was embarrassed and disappointed. I then worked and after five years I went back determined to earn my fine arts degree with a concentration in graphic design. 

My dad always told me, “If you love what you do, then it won’t feel like a job.” This made me want to pursue my degree because it was something I wanted, rather than something I had to do. 

I know the only way I’m going to find happiness and fulfillment is by doing what I love. I love art and being creative. 




Major: Elementary Education, Trine University

I knew from the time I was in third grade that I would go to college. It was very important to my dad. 

But, in high school I struggled with self-confidence and feeling like I wasn’t good enough to get into college. 

At Trine, I was able to build my confidence, take risks and challenge myself. Being away at college wasn’t easy for me. 

Despite my parents not going to college, they were able to support me. Whenever I was lonely I could call home. When I received texts from them that said, “Way to go!” and “We’re very proud of you,” it made all the difference. Having my parents’ support has mattered a lot. 

My graduating from college not only means so much because I am the first in my family but also because I have been able to overcome the hard times and achieve so much.




Major: Art Education, University of Saint Francis

When I was in fourth grade, my mom signed me up for the 21st Century Scholar program which sets students up for attending college. 

When thinking about going to college, I knew it would be financially difficult for my mom; so I applied for a lot of scholarships. 

As a student teacher, I am able to use my experiences to teach other high school students about being able to attend college. For many of these students, the idea of going to college isn’t a possibility. 

But, when I share what I did to make it happen, I found they were really interested and wanted to know more. 

One of the most important things I have learned is that at college there are lots of programs and services to help students. For those who are the first generation to attend college, there are programs like University of Saint Francis’ TRiO, which supports students with things like mentorship, counseling, financial literacy and tutoring. 

It’s important to know help is always available and can make a big difference.




Major: Elementary Education/Special Education, Huntington University

Coming from difficult lives, my parents didn’t make great choices; but, they were determined to make better choices for their kids. 

They decided college would be an option for all of their kids; thus, my parents pushed for me to go to college. At times this was difficult, because my parents didn’t understand the system and I had to figure out a lot on my own. 

People I encountered along the way, my high school running coach and youth pastor, gave me direction and encouraged me. Huntington University turned out to be a good school for me, because it has a smaller campus and my professors supported me. 

I have worked hard and earned good grades because I wanted to show my parents I understood how important it was to not only go to college but graduate. 

My mother attended a local college for a year but didn’t graduate, because she had two kids. But, her work with disabled adults for the past 18 years has had an impact on me and lead to me to pursue teaching and special education as my major. 

College has taught me about who I am and has allowed me to pursue my career choice. Even though things may change in life, college has allowed me to have the opportunity to decide who I want to be.




Major: Engineering, Indiana Tech Fort Wayne

I had a rough childhood. By the time I was 15, I was pretty much abandoned by my parents and spent most of high school homeless. I dropped out of school four times but kept going back and working part-time. 

During my senior year of high school, I had the opportunity to speak with an admissions officer from Indiana Tech Fort Wayne, who introduced me to the Early Start Program that allows high school seniors to take college courses at a reduced cost and begin accruing college credits. 

When I took the math placement test, I tested out of the intro class, and began taking business statistics. I was amazed. 

With the help of this same admissions officer, I was able to enroll at Indiana Tech, get financial aid and a cheerleading scholarship. 

School became my main focus – it gave me a solid foundation on which to build. It was easy to make the necessary sacrifices. 

I once thought I had no future, but by going to college I was able to make something of myself. 

Despite how I grew up, I knew college would give me the chance to achieve something on my own. 


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