What being a first-generation college student taught me

July 21, 2021

It was 5:30 in the morning and my full-to-the-brim teal minivan made its first stop at my grandmother’s home. Big Mama, as she was affectionately called, was sitting on her front porch with people from up and down the block. The kids I had played with my entire life came to see me off as I embarked on a new adventure; one that was not afforded to most people in my community.

None of my aunts or uncles had gone to college, let alone my parents, and I was the chosen one to act as the representative for my entire family and all those people who came to see me off. This is what being a first-generation college student meant to me. I shouldered the dreams and aspirations of all those people. It was up to me to be the changemaker. Looking back at the 16-year-old girl who took on that journey with hopes, dreams, and uncertainty, here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Don't give into fear. 

Tears streamed down my face as our minivan pulled away from my father that morning I left for college. What was I doing? Why would I ever leave the person that protected me so well? Being the first to do it and the uncertainty of it all was nerve-racking but I decided although I wasn’t fearless, I’d make my fears mean less.

If we avoided everything that made us uncomfortable, we wouldn’t grow into our ideal selves. Doing it scared helps us in being braver and stronger individuals in general. Our true strength emerges in times of uncertainty and fear. Will you shy away from the opportunity because you think you’re unqualified? Will you start your business despite the fear of failure? Pushing through shifts the mindset from thinking about the limits to having limitless potential.


The more we address and take on things that bring about fear, the more we realize we didn’t need to be scared in the first place. Taking that step forward will either be a blessing or a lesson. Either way, that’s a win! When you develop that can-do attitude, it then can be applied in various facets of your life.

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." - Nelson Mandela


The people that were a part of my send-off became one of the driving forces of who I am today and my purpose. Purpose is defined as the reason for which something is done, created, or for which something exists. Being able to clearly define your purpose provides direction and brings joy.

The day I left for college, I was reminded that just stepping outside of my city and pursuing higher education was an enormous privilege. I knew then and there that my purpose would lead me down a path to dismantling systemic barriers that don’t allow for equal opportunity to marginalized communities. From that point on, all my actions, plans, career choices, and more revolved around my purpose and the impact I truly wanted to make. Likewise, you must have a sense of direction in your pursuits. Take time to self-reflect to see where you were, where you are, and where you want to go.


As you step into your higher self and you take more risks, reflect on the importance of doing it scared, developing courage, and defining your purpose to guide your actions. I can safely say that the 16-year-old who left her home in the teal minivan full of doubt, uncertainty, and fear has conquered many fears, not because of brilliance but as a result of resilience. I believe in you and your capabilities. So, what are you waiting for? Go on and be great!

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