Cheyanne Cierpial '16
Major: English Literature
Title: Marketing Coordinator at Taylor Strategy Partners
When I arrived at Denison University, I wasn’t fully aware of the ways my first-gen status would shape my college experience. I knew that my “college search” had differed quite drastically from my peers. I didn’t know what the liberal arts were, and I don’t think my parents understood the value of a liberal arts education when I decided on Denison.
As a Police Officer and a Veteran turned Pre-School teacher, I think my parents understood the value of college but not necessarily what went into it.
As I continued throughout my college career, my first-gen status became more and more clear to me. Though my parents continually supported me, I felt that I had to “convince” them to let me go abroad. We struggled to ultimately decide on a location that I was passionate about and they were comfortable with, and I ended up missing that experience.
As I began to look at internships, my network seemed much, much smaller than many of my peers. When I began considering graduate studies, I once again felt resistance from my parents. I didn’t inherently know the progression from Bachelor’s to Master’s to PhD. I didn’t know what to look for in programs or if grad school was right for me.
And while I found advice and mentorship from my peers, my professors, and career services, I desperately wanted to discuss it with the people who knew me better than anyone in the world: my parents.
For a long time, I didn’t discuss my first-gen status with anyone. I didn’t know there were so many other first-gen students at Denison. I didn’t even have the words to describe my experiences at first, until I heard someone else talk about it this way: It’s like everyone else got a handbook or cheat sheet for life and I didn’t.
To me, being first isn’t not knowing the answers. It’s not even knowing the questions to ask in the first place.
I am forever grateful that my parents supported me in the best way they knew how. Because of them, I received the best gift of my life: my education.
Being a first generation college student had its share of challenges. It also allowed me to never take my education for granted. Every day that I woke up and walked to Academic Quad for my 8:30 class, passing the sunrise over Mitchell Center, I was reminded how truly happy I was to be at Denison. And yet, the more time I spent at college, the more difficult it was to go home.
Being first gen wasn’t always easy, but it made me even prouder when I was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, received the Presidential Medal, and walked across stage with my gold tassel indicating Summa Cum Laude. While I sensed my parents didn’t fully understand what these achievements mean in the academic community, they were always in the front row cheering me on.
In many ways, first generation students enrich our college campuses. We bring unique experiences and important voices. We balance jobs or work study with our academics and campus involvement. We are campus leaders. We graduate and inspire others in our communities at home. Being a first generation college student means I have a deepened appreciation for my education. It isn’t something I am entitled to. My education is my own, and I have fought for my success.