Thankful to be a first-generation college student

Vidal Mendoza

      By Vidal Mendoza, undergraduate majoring in
      interdisciplinary studies, speech language sciences
      and technology 

As a first-generation college student, my experience at NAU and the road to college has been different than some of my fellow Lumberjacks. I could sum up my feelings in five words: proud, humbled, pressured, scared and thankful.

Proud: I am proud to be the first in my family to work toward a college degree. I grew up in a working-class household. My mother and father both had to leave school in 7th grade to help provide for the family household. They grew up picking in agriculture fields. It was hard, manual labor and they wanted a better life for their children.

I was raised to be a hard worker. “Nothing worthwhile is easy,” my father would always say.

My parents are my biggest supporters. I am proud to have made it this far in my education. There were so many times I have thought, “What have I got myself into?”

Humbled: So many people have made sacrifices for me to go back to school. Despite living in a one-income household, my husband and children have had to sacrifice a lot of time with me. They are the huge part of the “why” I am doing this. I want them to see that despite the hardships and struggles mommy faced, she never gave up.

I also want our children to witness how much their parents value education. Children do live by example, and I want to be the best example of hard work, determination and patience.

Pressured: I have had to become quite resilient, especially being a non-traditional first-generation college student. Boy, you can feel it—pressure to succeed, pressure to obtain a degree and pressure to obtain substantial employment. Pressure, pressure, pressure!

Failing is not in my job description as a college student. Quite the opposite. I am and have always been an overachiever. I cried when I got a C, hopefully my only one. I don’t believe in barely passing; I believe everyone is capable of reaching their full potential. Maybe that is what being an older college student does to you. I look at school as my job and I look at my grades as my job performance.

Scared: Yes, I am scared. I will be graduating in May with my bachelor’s degree. I am in the process of applying to graduate school. Yes, I am going to continue. After consulting with my family, I made the decision to keep going and earn a master’s degree. While I know my bachelor’s is just a stepping stone on my path to higher education, I am scared. What if I get burned out? What if I fail? So many questions.

Thankful: I am so proud to be a first-generation student. Not only was I the first in my family to get my high school diploma, associate’s degree and soon a bachelor’s degree, one day I may earn a master’s degree. I am living proof that no matter where you come from, you have the potential to go anywhere you choose. My parents gave up so much so I could have a better life and do something important. I am not going to disappoint.