The last child of working class parents, I always felt that there was something beyond a small town along the Hudson River. I did not want to become a nurse’s aide in the local hospital, a secretary for IBM or Texaco nor settle for a military position. At the time, they were the top-hiring companies.
I purposely did not attempt to excel in the non-AP track assigned. I focused on being my best and became the “first” in my family to go and finish college. For this reason, it was important for me not to passively settle into an undesirable educational path.
A community leader gave talks at our high school and church about college educational opportunities for first generation/low income students. He invested time, financial resources, and energy on us, thirteen African American and Latino graduating seniors. He discussed the college application process, financial aid, SAT preparation and college resources. He took us on college tours and gave us the tools to discern the college culture. We attended debrief meetings, practiced admission and interviews. Then, he challenged us to test our resiliency in college.
I nervously accepted the challenge by applying to several colleges and later elatedly opened multiple admission acceptance letters. I selected the college that offered the most social and emotional support necessary for this sheltered seventeen-year old to strive in. I also enrolled in a pre-college program and reluctantly took a study skills course. Importantly, this study skills training eventually led to a professional teaching career at my alma mater.
Armed with the pre-knowledge about college resources, how to access them and motivation to succeed, I chose to work with peer mentors. Their support helped me to make sense of the transition challenges. They helped me navigate the college, handle homesickness, strengthen confidence in my abilities and to explore options for paying it forward.
As I emerged into the cultural awareness programs, I learned how to constructively manage complex challenges. The most memorable challenges were maintaining a feeling of belonging despite my unique path and learning how to co-exist in classes. Frank discussions with peer mentors helped me neutralize most discomforts.
In retrospect, I would advised my first year self to diversify peer-to-peer interactions. I acknowledge the imbalance between the maintaining familiarity and what felt emotionally safe forfeited some opportunities.
The sum of my experiences and perseverance eventually motivated me to pursue a Master of Education in Educational Administration and the resiliency as an advising practitioner at Vassar for many years!