May has always been my favorite month out of the entire year. True, I might be biased, given that it’s my birth month. But hey, I have other reasons too, one of them being that May always marks the prime of spring. Plants and trees aren’t the only things blooming. It’s a month of renewal and the start of new beginnings for everything. What better way to exemplify that idea than it also being graduation season?
Oh yeah, graduation. That’s actually happening very soon, and I do not know where to start this piece since my thoughts surrounding commencement are all over the place. However, I do know one thing is for sure. I am so unbelievably and extraordinarily proud to be a first-generation graduate.
Let’s talk about that. What does it mean to be first-generation? Generally, it pertains to being either an immigrant or the child of immigrants. And specifically regarding this piece, being a first-generation graduate means being the first in your family to attend college.
Whichever way the term applies to you, hold the title proudly and do not think for one second that it makes you any less capable or deserving of such an accomplishment. Also, do not ever feel ashamed of where you come from and the extra struggles it took to get you to walk on that stage in your coveted cap and gown.
“The point is I didn’t get here (commencement day) on my own. And I sure as hell will not be walking alone.”
I believe it is extremely important to recognize my own story of being first-gen and to share it with you all, though not in hopes of “breaking misconceptions” or “changing the conversation”, because 1) not everyone’s story is the same, and 2) I do not need to validate the term “first-gen” to anyone. (Y’all can stay ignorant.)
Instead, I want to highlight my journey as a small thank you to everyone who helped me achieve so much and helped shape the person I am today. I am grateful and humbled to have supportive individuals in my life that pushed me every step of the way. But the true thank you and dedication of this piece goes to my lovely parents: the two individuals in my life who have my eternal gratitude and love.
On top of being first-generation, I am also the eldest child in my household, meaning my parents and I navigated unfamiliar waters on our own. College applications, state vs. private, FAFSA, scholarships – You name it, we discovered it all by trial and error. And lots of Googling.
The point is I didn’t get here (commencement day) on my own. And I sure as hell will not be walking alone. Because when you’re a first-gen daughter, this accomplishment is far more than just a piece of paper. Indeed, this degree was earned by many all-nighters, hard work, and–let’s face it–lots of coffee. But in retrospect, my parents both played vital roles in making this a reality.
From the sacrifices they made to get me to this point, to the way they made me fall in love with gaining knowledge, raising me in a household that was supportive of my passions and crazy (read: ambitious) ventures … the list goes on. This includes reading my latest articles and posts on my blog and saying “Ma fihmna shi” (We didn’t understand a thing), and yet proceeding to share it with friends and family in all of their WhatsApp group chats.
To some, they may sound like what parents are supposed to sound like. But you really don’t get it. I am only scratching the surface because this article has a word limit. And despite how I can usually express myself with writing, my parents are the only exception. I will never be able to find the words to do them justice or convey my appreciation.
So this one’s for mama and baba. I tip my cap off to you both. Thank you.
Nihal is a Palestinian-American-Muslim from New York with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts + Journalism & Political Science. She currently manages her own blog -- where she talks about modest fashion, lifestyle, and spirituality -- and is a social media consultant. Nihal is passionate about participating in global movements for girls and women through different mediums such as writing and forums. Besides dressing up, she also enjoys convincing others that coffee is a food group and feminism is common sense.