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First Generation


” ‘First Generation’ is a term that I have heard frequently used by my counselors to describe me as a future college student…I would be the first in my family to set foot on a college campus….If I am successful at college then my younger siblings and cousins will follow and we can all create a new generation of college eduated people. I want to be a great influence on changing my family’s future legacy.” (From an essay by a new student in Trinity’s College of Arts and Sciences)

Quite a few Trinity students over the years have written a paragraph like this one. Indeed, I might have written it myself, since I was also in the “first generation” in my family to finish college and go on to law school. I know the sense of pride, responsibility, determination and more than a little bit of trepidation that goes along with being a “first generation” student. So many people are counting on you to succeed, so much family pride depends upon your achievement of that college degree. Failure is not an option!

“Legacy” is a beautiful idea that goes hand-in-hand with the determination of all first generation students to succeed. All studies show that the level of a mother’s education will have a tremendous impact on the quality of her children’s education and their persistence through high school, college and advanced degrees. Trinity’s mission is to make the opportunity to create that legacy even more available to the women who will lead future generations — and today, to men as well in our Schools of Education and Professional Studies. Young women, experienced women, working men — all can create a new educational legacy for their families at Trinity.

Of course, obstacles loom large, at times threatening the fulfillment of this dream. Money is a constant problem for first generation students today. Members of Congress who wilfully waste billions on questionable projects while refusing to raise the $4000 cap on Pell Grants (stuck at that level since 2002) should be ashamed of their myopia when it comes to making higher education a real priority for millions of low income first generation students today. Because Pell Grants are so inadequate, too many low income students have to work too many hours when they should be focused on their studies. Financial stress is one of the largest drivers of college attrition — policymakers who decry “college drop-out rates” should consider their own ignorance of the financial facts of life for low income students. These students need stronger financial assistance, not judgmental lectures. Such assistance will lead to greater success in college, higher completion rates, and an improved national workforce.

Those lawmakers who have only the most romantic memory of their own college days should ponder the courage and determination of a young woman who writes with great passion: “My mother always told me to follow my dreams. It’s been times when we have to live paycheck to paycheck just to do things or buy stuff for the house…as a teenager I saw the kind of effect it had on her. Seeing that, it makes me want to really go for my dreams and accomplish my goals. Being the first one on my mother’s side to go to college and really make a life on my own is very scary and exciting at the same time. I’m not only paving the way for me but also for the next generation that comes after me.” (From a new student essay.)

Bravo to all of the “first generation” students who are blazing trails for their brothers and sisters, their future children and all who look to them today. We are deeply committed to your success here at Trinity. And we will continue to press Congress to raise the Pell Grant cap!

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: