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.”
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