First-gen students overcome and achieve

FAMU SJGC recognizing First-Gen College Student Day. Photo courtesy: @famusjgc82 on Instagram

National First-Generation College Celebration Day honors the anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965. It is celebrated annually on Nov. 8. The holiday ​​highlights first-gen college students. It offers a moment for them to celebrate their achievements, acknowledge their distinct challenges, and rally for greater support and inclusivity within higher learning.

Andrew Warner, a second-year biology pre-med student at Florida A&M, grew up in a single-parent household. Warner explained how ensuring he had financial stability in the future inspired him to pursue higher education as a first-gen student.

Warner faces many trials as a first-gen student and faces pressure from many to succeed in college.

“One challenge I’ve faced on my journey to college is not having much guidance on how to maneuver through my education since no one in my immediate family has graduated college,” Warner said. “I think networking makes networking much more important since I didn’t come to college with any familial ties.”

Warner’s background also gives him a new perspective on navigating his college life at Florida A&M University. Warner pays his tuition out of pocket with his job, and he feels that aspect, along with other challenges, has limited him but has also given him intangible advantages over his peers.

“Being a first student has hardened me in the way of not being very dependent on others for much,” he said. “Which has put me in the mindset that I can achieve so much more using my willpower.”

Kaayah Howard is a second-year political science student who also studies at FAMU. Like Warner, she is a first-gen college student. Howard states that wanting to achieve her dreams upon graduation keeps her motivated while navigating college.

“Even though it can be overwhelming, I just remember that this is what I wanted,” Howard said. “I can’t give up on this dream and go home empty-handed because it’ll mean giving up on everybody who’s after me. I find the fun in it and push through.”

Howard’s decision to attend college comes from a desire to break her family’s generational curses and be a role model to her siblings. Howard says her family is her support system.

“They allow me to not focus on anything but school,” she said. “They understand that I am a first-generation college student and that it isn’t easy.”

Howard says her family’s support helps her tremendously.

“It keeps me going when I think of everybody that will be so proud and thankful to me,” she said. “Being known as the first isn’t bad either.”

Jayden Flemming, a third-year accounting student, says exploring opportunities on campus and being involved as a first-gen student helps shape his future with what he wants to do with his degree.

“I feel like the organizations I’ve joined have helped me in the professional world more than my actual classes,” Flemming said. “In these clubs, you’re handling real-life situations.”

Flemming also states that his peers’ ambition rubs off on him and motivates him to dream bigger.

“Being surrounded by that, it helps you be your mindset,” he said. “It makes your experience on campus way better, especially if you’re not a social person.”

Flemming is a member of the Alpha Xi chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. He mentions that being a part of a brotherhood is something he is grateful for.

“I didn’t know anything about this group until I got here,” Flemming said. “At my first Set Friday, I saw all these people in different colors dance. I’m like, who are they? That also made my experience slightly different from others because I didn’t know what to expect. I had never really been around groups growing up, period.”

Being a part of a fraternity on campus also allows Flemming to make connections and network as a first-gen student with alums who return.

“During this past homecoming, I met some of them and being surrounded by them makes you want to do better,” Flemming said. “It makes you feel at home because they are a family.”

First-generation college students are a testament to everyone that it doesn’t matter where you came from; with a purpose, a student can go far.