Embracing the journey

Understanding the first-generation college experience.

The front view of Haas. Photo by Photo Editor Maddie Ciliento '25.

Last Wednesday evening, students and faculty gathered on the College Green to celebrate a unique feat. This was a moment to celebrate the stories of resilience, perseverance and success within the first-generation college students’ community. Celebrating First Generation Student Day on Nov. 8, the event not only commemorated this significant accomplishment but also provided a space to share the diverse experiences of those who have paved a path for themselves and future generations.

From the delicious food spread, to the lawn games arranged for attendants, the atmosphere was charged with a sense of unity and shared accomplishment. Often defined as a student whose parents did not complete a four-year degree at a college or university, Alaina Hall ‘27 made it a point to highlight that not all students were the same. “Though this characteristic is common to all of us, I think the commonalities end there because we all have vastly different backgrounds and paths that led us to this point.” Hall explained that her “father had the opportunity to attend college, but he found that it just wasn’t something he was interested in pursuing. Other parents may not have even had the opportunity at all, like my mother, which makes me forever grateful that I was able to have the same opportunity as my father,“ reflected Hall.

Meanwhile, others such as Harriet Komlatse ‘25 chose to define these students with characteristics such as “resilient, hardworking and always defying odds.” Some may argue that these are essential qualities for first-generation students, given the unique set of challenges they face on a daily basis. “I believe a common experience amongst first-generation students is feeling lonely pertaining to academic-related issues because our parents often do not understand what we are learning, which makes it difficult to share our academic struggles with them,” said Komlatse. 

From navigating the college application process to understanding the intricacies of financial aid and college paperwork, these students often did not have the luxury of simply turning to their parents for assistance like many of their peers did. Instead, they often had to navigate these journeys by themselves. Komlatse highlighted that “some hardships I faced coming to college was figuring out where I wanted to go to school and deciding if I even fit in the environment I was planning on putting myself in.”

Yet, that changed once they found themselves at Allentown’s 2400 Chew Street. They highlighted the College’s extended support for these students: “Coming to college, there was so much my parents and I did not know, but my high school and Muhlenberg College itself provided us with so many resources and reassurances that helped make the transition smoother,” explained Hall. Komlatse added that she thinks that “the College has done enough to accommodate my needs by making sure a community for first-gen students is available where support is provided when needed but as usual, there is always room for improvement.”

Whatever those support measures may be, at the end of the day, these students realize that just like the campfires that helped light the event on that dark November evening, they were themselves bright spots serving as beacons of hope for their families and for those coming after them. Highlighting the same, Komlatse says that she is “not only studying and will be obtaining my Bachelor’s degree for myself, but I am also doing it for the next generation in my family. This mission serves as an extra fuel to succeed, and my identity as a first-gen student tells the story of my roots and where I envision myself.”

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