In just 17 days, I will become the first member of my family to earn a bachelor’s degree. I am proud to be first generation and have never seen it as something to be ashamed of or as a hurdle. Over the last four years, Indiana State University has become home and I feel just as comfortable on campus as I do in my hometown (if not more). In 24 days, I will walk across the stage and then leave my campus home. My struggle as a first generation student will start all over again as I prepare to move to grad school.
Flashback to August 2012: I moved two hours away from home to come to ISU. I wasn’t scared, I was ready for the adventure and ready to be on my own. I didn’t realize at the time that being “first generation” was even a term. When I did realize later on that I was first generation, it was not something I was ashamed of; it was something I was (and am) proud to be.
I have known since middle school, when I applied for and received the 21st Century Scholarship, that I would have a full-ride for tuition at any public university in Indiana. And after my senior year of high school and new student orientation at ISU, I realized I wouldn’t have to pay anything out-of-pocket at all and take out minimal loans. Unlike many first generation students, finances were not an issue and I am so thankful for that privilege.
I also was only going to school two hours (exactly, door-to-door) away from home so I always knew I had that as a crutch to fall back on if anything happened – like if my car was stolen or I broke my foot. As a result of being somewhat close to home and having expendable money throughout the year, I did not feel the pressures of being first generation like others have. I have never had to worry about coming back the next year because of outstanding debt to the university or anything like that.
I’m not saying any of this to brag. I’m saying this to show the contrast to what I am about to go through in 24 days when I leave ISU, go home for a couple months, and then pack up for grad school over 12 hours away from home instead of a measly two.
My full-ride tuition scholarship is gone now that a) I’ve completed my four-year bachelor’s degree and b) I’m going very much out of state. While my tuition will still be mostly covered thanks to my assistantship, fees are all on me. The only financial aid I qualify for at this point are loans, all unsubsidized, which is also entirely new to me.
And after living on campus for the last four years, the thought of apartment hunting and doing it from a 12-hour distance is terrifying. Finding the right place with the right lease time and then finding a sublease preceding it (since most leases don’t start till after my July 18th assistantship start date) is a confusing and overwhelming process.
I’ve made it the last four years but I’ve had very few bills and always have that two-hours-away crutch to fall back on when necessary. Being a first-generation undergraduate student was, dare I say, easy. Being a first-generation graduate student is a whole new game to play.