Even though my parents didn’t attend college, there was no question that I would. Both of them, especially my mom, emphasized education.
It began with books.
As a child, I especially enjoyed The Berenstain Bears, the friendly family of grizzlies who concluded every tale with a moral lesson. We had at least 50 of those books, filled with stories of Papa Bear and Mama Bear, a few favorites so weathered that the pages were held together by tape or staples. I could “read” several of the stories before really knowing how to read; after hearing the familiar lines so many times, I had simply memorized the words that accompanied each picture.
Whether or not reading was the trick, by the time I began kindergarten, I enjoyed learning. While my parents never demanded academic success, it was silently understood that education was important and that excelling in school would be a sure ticket to college—and to scholarships that could offset the cost. Thus, in 2011, I arrived in Aggieland as a first-generation student, a population that still comprises almost 25% of Texas A&M University’s undergraduate student body.
Our cover feature explores how Texas A&M is increasing efforts to welcome and support this important and unique subset of Aggies, undertaking measures to make their college transition smoother and their overall experience more successful. As an initiative that speaks to every individual’s fundamental right to education and our university’s land-grant mission to improve the lives of citizens statewide, it is one of the most important efforts happening on campus today.
Education is powerful because it is empowering. An equitable and accessible educational system helps all students develop the knowledge and skills they need to seize opportunities and become productive members of society. No one should be denied the chance to learn because of the way they were born or where they come from, but unfortunately, pure circumstance still derails the prospects of too many individuals—and disproportionately so among those who could be the first in their families to attend college.
A student featured in this issue, Juanita Rocha ’21, said something that I won’t soon forget: As a first-generation student, she knows how to work hard to get where she wants to be. That resonated with me in such a personal and striking way. So many first-generation students are hardworking and eager to learn; they just need someone to believe in them.
If you’re on the hunt for something truly worthwhile and rewarding to support at Texas A&M, consider creating a scholarship for a first-generation Aggie. In addition to helping change the trajectory of one life, your gift can change the trajectory of families and communities by helping these students set an inspiring and attainable example.
Plus, you won’t find more grateful scholarship recipients; I speak from experience.
Dunae Reader ’15
Editor, Spirit magazine