The heavy, warm velvet robes and berets filled the Detroit Opera House on a sunny Monday afternoon. After a concise but spirited ceremony, smiling faces flooded the Detroit streets taking pictures with family and friends, celebrating their accomplishments. This was a memorable day for everyone, myself included, because we officially became Juris Doctors. That’s right, I made it through the most challenging part of my schooling yet, law school! Several years of blood, sweat and tears led me to this moment!! AND I was able to share such a special occasion with the people who mean the most to me: my family. Not only was this event important for me, but it meant something more to my loved ones. I have been reflecting back to this day and thinking about the impact my law school graduation has had on my family as a first generation college student.
First Generation College Student
I am a first generation college student. This means that I am the only one in my immediate family (and a majority of my extended family as well) to have completed college and received a degree. I am the only one in my entire family (yes, extended family included) to have gone to law school and (pending bar passage) become a lawyer. In the abstract, this doesn’t seem to be very different than people who have parents or family with college degrees. However, in reality, being a first generation college student is very challenging. You have to create your own path and do not have the benefit of those who have come before you. I love and respect my parents, and they are a constant source of advice for me, however, they never experienced what I have had to do by myself. They cannot share tips or tricks with me to make things easier. Everything from applying to college to taking final exams has been the product of self-taught skills that I sometimes had to fumble my way through.
Although I am a first-gen student, it does not mean I wasn’t blessed with a truly wonderful family. I am very fortunate to have a loving and supportive family. My parents come from two very big families (6-7 kids each), so their parents did not have the ability to send them to college. Instead, my parents struggled, worked hard, and tried to make a good life for themselves. At the same time, they wanted to make sure my sister and I had a better life in the future. They have taught me so many lessons in hard work, determination, and ambition. They have pushed me to be the person I am today. Even as a first generation student, I am so thankful to have a family that I can lean on and go to in times of hardship and stress.
Officially the First JD in the Family!!
The day of my graduation was filled with so much happiness and love. I had worked so hard for this day to come and I was finally going to be the first person in my family to receive a law degree, a Juris Doctorate. And boy were my parents proud!! I actually had a dentist appointment the morning of my graduation and everyone in my dentist’s office told me how much my parents were talking about my graduation and how happy they were when they had their appointments earlier that week. All parents feel proud of their children and their accomplishments. But my graduation from law school meant that not only was I achieving my own dreams of becoming a lawyer, but I was accomplishing my parents’ dreams of having a good education and life. All of their hard work paid off because they knew that I was happy, healthy, and successful. This is what graduation means for a first generation college student’s family.
Next Stop: First Lawyer in the Family
Surviving and thriving in law school was one of the most challenging things I have had to do. And even though I was alone in the actual experience, I was supported and loved every step of the way by my parents, my fiance, my sister, and all of my family and friends. Receiving my Juris Doctorate meant more than just being able to add two letters to the end of my name. It meant that everything I did from the time I could walk to now was worth the hardships and struggles that I endured. It meant that through thick and thin, my family was there to cheer me on. This degree is not just for me, it also represents their accomplishments. Although my law school journey is over, I still have steps to take to become the first lawyer in my family. But like every challenge I have faced in my life up to this point, I will do it with the backing of a whole army of loved ones. Graduation is a special time in everyone’s life and to all of you out there, I am proud of you and I am excited to see where your life takes you next. Congratulations to a new class of future attorneys and leaders!
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