First Gen Fellows hosts National First-Generation College Celebration

UW Tacoma’s First Gen Fellows hosted their second annual National First-Generation College Celebration event at the Dawghouse in the Mat­tress Factory Nov. 8 12:30–3 p.m. First Gen Fellows is an organization dedicated to helping students who identify as first in their family to graduate from college. The group hosts a range of events throughout the year to help students adjust to university lifestyle.

As part of the national event, the festivities were jointly celebrated with the Seattle and Bothell campuses, as well as other campuses around the country. The ceremony marked the 53rd anniversary of the Higher Educa­tion Act being passed in 1965. The act aimed to strengthen educational re­sources for colleges and universities by providing financial aid and low-inter­est loans to students. The term first-generation was added in 1980 as part of an amendment to the act. The goal of the event was to celebrate the pres­ence and experiences of first-genera­tion college students, staff and faculty.

Attendees of the celebration min­gled and feasted on free coffee, cake and cupcakes while waiting for the event to start. They could also pick up free first-gen buttons as they walked in. Robert “Bobby” Gates kicked off the ceremony by welcom­ing everyone and introducing the speakers. Chancellor Mark Pagano and Board of Regents member Joel Benoliel — both first-generation col­lege students — expressed their ap­preciation for the program and speak­ers. Benoliel was followed by Armen Papyan, Associated Students of UWT president, who recalled the chal­lenges of being a first-generation college student.

“We all have stories of struggles and barriers that [we’ve] experienced as first-generation students,” Papyan said. “Being a first-gen is exciting. But at the same time, a lot of pressure is put on [our] shoulders to be suc­cessful. [As] first-generation students … it [is] exceptionally difficult to get into higher education and even more difficult to stay and graduate from a university. Statistically speaking, first-generation students are far less likely to graduate than [our] peers.”

While the challenges are difficult, Papyan stated that what makes all first-generation students special is how they deal with those challenges and con­tinue to persevere and work hard ev­ery day. He asked students to get in­volved and always remember that they can and will change the world.

“The research says that our odds increase as we [get] involved,” Pa­pyan continued. “I urge you to … get involved and get engaged. We are a family here. Let’s support each other and hold each other accountable for each other’s success.”

After Papyan’s remarks, Karl Smith — associate vice chancellor for Enrollment Services and chief admis­sions officer — asked attendees to share their stories with the people around them. Afterward, he shared his personal story with the audience and encouraged students to remem­ber that they are not alone in navigat­ing the college process.

“Remember that failure is not an option,” Smith said. “You got to do everything you can in order to grad­uate. And then from there move on … This is an ongoing story; this is just the college part. Being first-genera­tion doesn’t end after graduating from college. It really is just a (sic) beginning of another phase.”

Kristi Soriano-Noceda — pro­gram support supervisor for First Gen Fellows — spoke last. At the conclusion of the event, attendees could take pictures at the photo booth, eat more refreshments and sign their names on the first gen pledge board — where first-gen stu­dents pledged to finish their four-year degrees — until the celebration of­ficially wrapped up.

“First-generation students are an untapped talent,” Soriano-Noceda said. “They come equipped with skills and knowledge that propel them to the achievements they have already accomplished. The celebration was to applaud first generation staff, fac­ulty, and students and it showed their abilities starting from the first-gen keynote speaker, Karl Smith, to the details for the event that was con­ducted by students. They are already leaving such a huge legacy and chang­ing the trajectory of their families.”

PHOTO BY PAOLA CHUA

Leticia is the News Editor for The Ledger. She is a Senior majoring an Urban Studies and hopes to become an Urban Planner. She is interested in all things happening around campus and loves to learn new things and meet new people.

Leticia Bennett

Leticia is the News Editor for The Ledger. She is a Senior majoring an Urban Studies and hopes to become an Urban Planner. She is interested in all things happening around campus and loves to learn new things and meet new people.