Have you ever felt like all your hard work isn’t good enough? I’m a first-generation student, and my parents constantly ask me about my future. To them, it’s important that I keep working hard to get a degree.
It’s easy to gloss over our success when our parents’ expectations feel out of reach.
As one of the first in my family to attend college, flunking out is not an option, because apparently that means I’ll be a failure for the rest of my life. To society, if I don’t graduate, I fade into the stereotypical image of a college dropout.
Many students who face systemic oppression carry the weight of their parents to perform at the highest level. At the same time, we have to grapple with imposter syndrome, doubting our accomplishments and feeling like we do not belong.
Completing high school was more a check on the list than a milestone for me. Now that I’m a senior in college, my parents often ask me when I will get a steady job so they can start planning when to quit theirs.
Because of academic inflation, I have no choice but to pursue higher education if I want to provide for my family. But coming from a low-income family, more school means more debt.
If the socioeconomic ladder was a mountain, I’d feel like Sisyphus, pushing the rock of economic burden.
I know I’m not alone in how I feel.
Jenni, a friend of mine who is also a first-generation student, told me her parents have always had high expectations for her. After being accepted into multiple doctorate programs, she shared the good news with them and was met with pressure to consider prestigious schools and get her degree in fewer than the typical six years.
She describes her academic accomplishments as uncelebrated wins, since she constantly feels more celebrated by her friends than family. She feels like parents don’t sympathize with the struggles she’s had in college.
Despite feeling invalidated, Jenni will achieve her dream of pursuing her doctorate at UC Irvine. While her parents continue to expect more from her, she brings herself validation by reflecting on her numerous accomplishments. For myself, I will be celebrating my college graduation this Spring and hope to pursue graduate school in the near future.
Universities frequently advocate for student independence while overlooking the interdependent mindset of first-generation students, whose success often involves their families. They are the reason we progress, but we need to celebrate ourselves too. We’re motivated to provide for our families, but to help them we must help ourselves first.
When we don’t celebrate our wins, we take away the momentum that keeps us moving forward. When we share our success, we remind ourselves of our value and inspire those around us.
Validating our path and progress means feeling proud and confident in moving forward in whatever direction we take. Give yourself full credit and celebrate every win because, big or small, it matters.