Graduates make a generational change

Illustration by Dominic Davies

Spring graduation is a week away, and seniors are awaiting the day they will move over their tassels and start their adult lives. Graduation is a big deal to most students, but there are some who anticipate their diplomas for an additional reason. These students are first-generation students, which means they are the first in their families to graduate from college.

For most first-generation seniors who will graduate this semester, the journey toward receiving their degrees has taken a lot of time and effort. There are many resources, such as First-Generation programs, around campus that give first-generation students a place to receive help and guidance. Tim Melnick, a coordinator for NAU’s First-Generation programs, said he has noticed several different experiences first-gen students commonly go through.

“Students do receive support from home, but sometimes it can be hard for them because they feel guilty for leaving and not supporting their families,” Melnick said. “I think the biggest challenge for them is that they don’t really have anyone in their families to help them navigate college for the first time.”

Melnick said there are many reasons first-generation students strive to be the first in their families to get a degree.

“They want to attend college to break the cycle in their family, gain personal motivation or take pride in being the first,” Melnick said.

Most careers today require a college degree, which may result in students acquiring a higher education. While some students want to be the first in their family to graduate college, the journey can be difficult.

Senior Carmen Pugliese said being a first-generation student comes with a lot of support, but it can be a lonely road. She also said it was really important to attend college to achieve her goals.

“Although my family has always encouraged me, sometimes I felt alone in my journey,” Pugliese said. “I had no family to reach out to that could help guide me through the challenging parts of college. I had dreams, big dreams, and I had no way to reach them without attending college.”

Although many first-generation students want to attend college to help with the success of their own futures, some do it for other people as well. Some first-generation students want to show their families they can make it through college and have their family members live vicariously through them. Some may also want to complete school because their families want them to be successful.

Senior Mark Rubio said getting a degree as a first-generation student is important to achieving his own goals, but also the goals of his family.

“Possessing this opportunity is crucial to being able to fulfill not only my own aspirations in the future but also to carry out the wishes and longings that my family has as well,” Rubio said. “In a sense, my family is living through me and wishes for me to become successful in society’s standards. While not only do I want to be my family’s champion, I want to accomplish these things for my family and make them proud.”

For the seniors at NAU who will be the first in their families to get a college degree, graduation will be more than just receiving a diploma. It will be a chance to show people that hard work, dedication and perseverance can get anybody to their goals.