Event celebrates success of first-generation students

Megan Binkley, Staff Writer

First generation students (students whose parents do not hold a degree above the associate level) are an integral, yet often-overlooked faction within the student body. On Nov. 8, Madison College hosted its first-ever First-Generation Student Day.

Despite superficial homogeneity, the experiences of first generation students and students from college-graduate households often differ in fundamental ways. The event celebrated these unique perspectives, while simultaneously calling attention to the singular life experiences that accompany the first-generation identity.

The event included presentations on resources available to first generation students, which were interspersed with personal narratives from both students and alumni. Something particularly moving was tales from two former students, both previously undocumented; whose accounts revealed insurmountable willpower and profound respect for the communal forces that aided them in the pursuit of their educational goals.

In their accounts, both women referenced their driving motivation: to wake up every day excited about the tasks before them, and to escape through education the eternal rat race of dead-end jobs and dreading what the work day has in store.

Dr. Jeff Galligan, assistant director of the Madison College TRiO Program, chimed in on the inspiration he has witnessed act as a driving force for first generation students at Madison College. “It’s the desire to make a better life for themselves, and for their children, and for their children’s children,” he said.

The event culminated in a panel of alumni who spoke on their experiences with the college process. Many spoke of a steep learning curve, intermittent breaks in education, and the thrill of the eventual “I can” moment.

Most identified the specific moment when a lack of confidence transformed into the dawning realization that they, too, could achieve educational horizons previously undreamed of. This sentiment is, incidentally, the embodiment of what Madison College strives to leave its first-generation students with.

“Nothing’s unattainable. I would say that the human spirit is strong, indefatigable, and resilient, and that if there’s something burning in you to be different than what you are, or what you know, then there’s a way to get it done,” said Galligan.

For first generation students looking to tap into the Madison College support network, or for those seeking to learn more about and support their first-generation peers, he assures us that this celebratory day is not a one-time event.

“There’s going to be a First-Generation Student Club, and hopefully next year they will be in charge of scheduling this event,” he said. “This is going to be an annual event; [this year] it was inspired by TRiO planning, and it’s a nation-wide event. But it’s going to keep going, but we want it to be student-led.”