I’m the shining star of my family — the first to go to college.
Being a first-generation college student from both sides of my family has been a glorious achievement for all the most delightful reasons. My parents put a lot of adoration behind their words when they tell people: “My daughter goes to UC Berkeley.” It’s an endearing sentiment I hold close when I think of how proud I’ve made them. When I watched my senior friends graduate, I couldn’t help but get emotional at the thought of how important my graduation would be. No one in my direct family has a university degree and I would be the first.
Although my achievements as a first-generation student are something I’m proud of, I can’t help but sometimes dread in the shadows of it — and it makes me feel terrible. I should always be happy for the opportunities given to me that my family never received. Yet, I find myself in moments of solitude, guilt and pressure that being a first-generation student has presented to me.
I hold my going to college in high regard, and I’ve push through battles and brawls to reach my accomplishments. The obstacles I face and how I overcome them may look different to a non-first-generation student. It’s difficult navigating a college education without having someone close to me to talk to about it. My parents have been my confidants my entire life, and not being able to ask for their assistance in something they have no knowledge or understanding of is an isolating experience. I’m grateful for my academic advisors and fellow college students for the advice they share with me, and my parents still provide me with loving words throughout my college pathway. Still, I sometimes wish I could ask my parents for help in my college route and experiences.
With my first-generation experience also comes heavy waves of guilt. I feel terrible even saying I wish my parents could help me through college knowing they’re trying their hardest to support me the way they know best. Although they’re proud of my achievements, I can’t help but wallow in the guilt of feeling as if I’m leaving them behind. I can’t help but feel as if I’m abandoning my immigrant mother to “pursue better things.” The thought is something that lingers within me when I begin gushing at how amazing UC Berkeley is or listing my plans after graduation. I’d hate for her to think I’m deserting my family entirely. I know she’s immensely proud of me, but that guilt spills over me in high tides and tsunamis. I push through by telling myself that getting my degree and pursuing a career is the best thing I can do to provide for her.
Being a first-generation student also has its forms of pressure. I often feel like there is no room for letting my parents down. Any minor inconvenience in school feels like a gateway to disappointing my parents. I feel as if they expect me to be the family’s success, which is an overbearing amount of pressure at times.
I want my parents to be proud of me, and I cherish the moment we all cheered at my acceptance letters — yet sometimes, I feel suffocated by the belief that I can’t fail them. They hold a lot of pride in their daughter for being able to achieve the things they never could, and that pride makes me anxious at times. I know they would still love and support me through any hardship or setback like the amazing parents they are, but the thought of disappointment eats away at the deepest caves in my mind. The last thing I’d ever want to do is make my parents feel as if I let them down as the family’s star.
Being a first-generation student is a multifaceted experience, and although it maintains its share of low moments, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I prize my parents’ hope in me within my heart, and it gets me through the hardships I find at UC Berkeley. Solitude, guilt and pressure are all valid understandings of the first-generation experience, but I know my biggest fans cheering me on as I walk the stage will be my parents.
I do it all for them.