Reflection of a First Generation Low Income Student (FGLI)
That’s the word I would use to describe graduation. Prior to the start of Ross School of Business, I miraculously smiled for photos at various locations during the Winter Garden reception, commemorating my accomplishments in a place that has always instilled a sense of unease. In the weeks leading up to the ceremonies, I had told others that I felt indifferent whenever they asked me how graduation felt. I will specify later that I feel indifferent, but specific emotions arise each time I think back to certain aspects and memories. For example, I’m filled with joy whenever I think of all the times I’ve spent chatting with Michigan in Color editors in the newsroom, but the alienation is tied to the undergraduate culture of the business school.
Quite frankly, I didn’t quite know how I was supposed to feel about that seminal moment. Was I supposed to take “candid” photos, embellish them with a brilliant caption, and filter on the ‘gram to showcase my rough individualism? As a first-generation student, higher education appeared amorphous and elusive for much of my life. But as a recent graduate, I am suddenly part of that “educated workforce” cohort that economists and pundits often refer to.
Graduation makes a step of upward mobility feel very real and permanent. It’s like I’m a video game avatar who just leveled up, but I don’t feel any different. My body and mind still hurt because of the bad eating habits I have adopted. I still come from a dilapidated home and my family network is made up of industrious laborers and service workers. Simply put, social class is about more than money.
For me, graduation marks a painful separation from the past. All the sacrifice and desolation culminates in a life-changing piece of paper that serves as a conduit to financial stability and overall well-being. The change in power is disconcerting. Some have noted that, not too far down the road, prospective students might contact me – ME? – for advice. I’m a noob in dating, dancing, dining out, and many other things. Although I’m out of the loop on a lot of things, I hope I can at least dispense a few grains of wisdom as an alum.
For clarity, I had insightful conversations with a mix of younger and older first generations. A recurring theme I’ve heard over the past few weeks is that the first-gen experience never ends. Some first-generation college graduates become first-generation professionals (FGPs), while others go on to graduate school. Feelings of being stuck in a gray area between different worlds and survivor’s guilt may linger. I could continue to dread updates from home. These updates were generally grim throughout my undergraduate years, consisting of new health issues resulting from strenuous jobs. As some of my Ross peers talk about lucrative industries and exit opportunities, I think back to conversations with peers from my hometown employed in low-wage jobs, enrolled in community college, or drafted into the service. military. I will continue to stand in the front row and witness the growing abyss of wealth.
There is a forgiving and unforgiving aspect that comes with aging. Vast swathes of our past, however happy or miserable, are sucked up and compressed into a few sentences and even a few words. This truncation takes place on the lines of our resumes, captions on social media posts, and in the conversations we have with others. All memories, experiences, and interactions become compressed into the “I went to the University of Michigan” part of our introductions.
This reduction can be frustrating – how can someone condense their most formative moments into a series of sentences? However, it can also be liberating. Many of us have failed in different instances and others are more open to sharing those shortcomings, but we are empowered to choose which one to briefly highlight from our summary of failures. Either way, the truncation is unavoidable, and I think it’s beautiful. No composition of words can truly capture a single experience.
About a month ago, I asked an editor for feedback on my writing. There was one piece of advice, rooted in observations of how writers evolve, that stuck with me because of its depth. First, one can first write to demonstrate that they have the prowess to impress others with their content and style. But then there finally comes a crucial inflection point. Similar to a flow switch in a rap song – as in Kendrick Lamar’s masterful track “DNA” – you start writing for yourself. “You write for yourself first,” the editor emphasized.
This advice can be extrapolated to the rest of life. Do things for yourself. Not for do-it-for-the-Vine influence, LinkedIn updates, and superficial assertiveness from others. Do it for yourself. For example, I’m proud of my previous pieces, but I felt it was my responsibility to leave a good impression and channel the voices of other early generations. At times, I felt encumbered using numerous literary scalpels to narrow down my word choice. I was still inflicting the same form of self-publishing that comes from agonizing assimilation. In the future, I hope to write with confidence in my abilities and without the pressure to meet other people’s expectations, both real and unreal.
Graduation, like many life milestones, can serve as a clean slate and transition – a new game file or writing draft that one can start from scratch and save or delete as one sees fit. seems. For much of my life, I rarely thought I had much to share, as it often felt like self-glorification. I had never considered writing about the free and reduced lunch and the warmth I have received from others lately. As a rule, I became very reluctant to share even a part of my upbringing in the working class. At this point, I hope to improve my writing style in a conscious way. Ultimately, I want to start living my life.
MiC columnist Gustavo Sacramento can be reached at [email protected]