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The Burden of the First

Being a first-generation student has got to be one of the loneliest journeys ever…if you so choose to. During my college application season, the whole process was too overwhelming. Like me, many of my friends were also first-generation college students. We stayed up late at night on calls editing applications, supplements, and essays. We were each other's go-to peer reviewers. We shared similar aspects of the same story; our best constructive criticism came from the people who walked the same path. While they made the process easier, everything around us felt that it was against us.

While many of our parents immigrated halfway across the world and have allowed us to pursue a better life than they had, sometimes, their added pressure was too much. I had this mindset that was quite unhealthy, “I need to succeed or else it was all for nothing.” One of the hardest parts of my college application season and continues to haunt me is completing the FAFSA form. It took me months to finally submit the form. I had no one in my family to turn to for help. When I asked my parents for guidance, they shrugged their shoulders and remarked, “You should know how to do this.” I did not know how to do it. On top of that, my parents did not complete their tax forms. I had to triple and double-check every single line on the forms. The green folder of papers still leaves a heavy hole in my heart. While I never thought it would happen, I received acceptance from a great number of colleges and I committed to Clark University.

Clark University is located almost 5,000 miles from Hawai’i. While my parents came to drop me off, the goodbye truly made me feel a type of loneliness I have never felt before. I arrived on campus a few weeks earlier after being accepted into the ACE program – a program for first-generation students of color. Through this program, I met so many of my closest friends at Clark University. We were all figuring out how to navigate college collectively. We shared stories and while there were similarities, the beauty of our “whys” was captivating. A few months into the semester, there was a luncheon for both first-generation students and staff. A significant number of administrators and professors showed up which was inspiring to see. They were just like us and they went through the same process. We can succeed too. One of the biggest takeaways from that luncheon was one of the Dean of Students telling us, “Walk as if you own this campus because you do. Everyone here wants to see you succeed.”

As a first-generation student, being the first is a burden and a blessing at the same time. For many of us, our families may have traveled across the world, worked many jobs, or both, just for us to have this opportunity. While we can be thankful, never forget that it is okay to stumble and fall. You are never truly alone. Always think about your motivations. I want to succeed so that I can provide them with a better future. Since I have gone through this journey, they don’t have to be alone on it. Being a first-generation student is not easy, thus, it comes with the title of being the first. However, you are setting up your family and others like you so that you don’t become the last.


Ashley Valois



Clark Univeristy


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