The Real World

From First-Gen Student to Whatever Comes Next: 5 Tips for Continuous Trailblazing

If you are a first-generation student approaching graduation, then you already know that your unique lived experience will endure when you cross the stage at commencement. You are the first in your family to graduate college and now you will be the first to seek a graduate degree or work in what society considers a "professional" role. Whatever comes next is one more first on an uncharted path. You will blaze this trail just like you did at Clark, with grit, persistence, proactivity, hope, gratitude, and devotion to the folx in your life who offer support. Here are 5 tips from a former first-generation graduate to take with you after graduation.

If you are a first-generation student approaching graduation, then you already know that your unique lived experience will endure when you cross the stage at commencement. You are the first in your family to graduate college and now you will be the first to seek a graduate degree or work in what society considers a “professional” role. Whatever comes next is one more first on an uncharted path. You will blaze this trail just like you did at Clark, with grit, persistence, proactivity, hope, gratitude, and devotion to the folx in your life who offer support, because those are the qualities that you gain from years of being the first. 

I graduated college 13 years ago as a first-generation student and to this day, my first-gen identity remains one unique lens through which I view the world. Navigating college, then graduate school, and every full-time job since has been an uncharted path in my family. Even now, as a first-generation professional, I still need to find mentors and people who I can relate to before I take on a new challenge or opportunity. While I still feel like I’m trailblazing, now I have strategies forged through years of experience that I can rely on.   

Here are my top 5 tips to take with you as you trailblaze through whatever comes next, and well after that. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. If you’ve always figured it out on your own, you might be used to a do-it-yourself mentality. Learning how to ask for help will open you up to a world of people willing to support you.  
  1. Connect with people whom you admire. When you come across people who really catch your attention, connect with them. Maybe it’s’ the way they told a story, spoke up in a meeting, or maybe they inspire you. No matter their profession, connecting with someone you admire pushes you outside of your comfort zone, and gives you practice in building relationships with meaning and intention. Here’s a great article on how to build relationships with people who inspire you. 
  1. Make decisions with yourself in mind. If you have always balanced the demands of work, academics, and family responsibility, then it can be tough to prioritize yourself in career-related decisions. Knowing your personal needs is the first step to making big decisions. When you’re ready, focusing on yourself when setting your goals will be a strategy to practice over time.  
  1. Find empathetic mentors. Finding industry mentors or folx who work in your targeted profession is important, but finding empathetic mentors will change your life. People who validate your experience, try to understand your perspective, and give you space to bring-up what you need to on your own time can guide and support you.  
  1. Value your experience. Your lived experience gives you a unique lens through which to leverage opportunities, tackle problems, and perceive situations. When you value your experience, you bring your perspective to the table, and the best companies and leaders will value this perspective. Here is a quick article on why both diversity and lived experience matter in the workplace. 

And here’s one more thing – a connection to add to your network of support. You can reach out to me anytime at rogallant@clarku.edu. You can also find other first-gen Clarkies to connect with on ClarkCONNECT by filtering with “help topic” and selecting “first generation.” 

To the Class of 2021- cheers to trailblazing your way through whatever comes next! 

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