First Generation Story
I grew up in a working-class family in an industrial town in Eastern Nebraska. My parents divorced when I was small and my mother temporarily lived as a single mother on welfare. She took a semester of typing classes during my younger years. This, plus a high school diploma, was the extent of her formal education. Currently, my mother works in a hotel laundry room. My father was employed in a meat-packing plant and, later, as a high school janitor. When I was a teenager, he pursued a welding certification, a vocation that he labors in today. My mother met my stepfather while he was employed as a car mechanic after having served in the United States Army. He later procured employment as a machinist. This position was afforded to him because his mother worked as a secretary in the industry and he was able to obtain on-the-job-training. He continues to work as a machinist today. When I was 9-years old, my stepfather obtained a different machining job and we moved to a more affluent Colorado community. My grandmother lived with us in a small home in which I shared a bedroom with both of my brothers. While we were mostly provided for, my family often struggled with money. In fact, if my grandmother had not assisted with bills and groceries, we would likely have lost our home. All of my parents struggled with addiction, although my biological father pursued sobriety after the divorce. He remains sober today. My mother's extreme alcoholism necessitated a great deal of money to maintain, which often meant her children did without. I often attended school in clothing and shoes with holes in them. Additionally, my family did not understand the value of education. Upon my entry into middle school, they did not check to ensure homework was completed and did not care if I skipped school, as long as they did not have to speak to teachers or administrators. I began spending time with the "wrong crowd" and struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. These endeavors were supported by my parents in my childhood home. As such, I performed just well enough in my classes to pass. While I was in high school, my stepfather insisted my older brother and I obtain employment. Their understanding was that the logical post-high school step was the workforce, and by hard work one could attain higher pay and a better quality of life. I worked full-time as a waitress through high school and narrowly graduated, while both of my brothers dropped out of high school. I took a gap year and decided to pursue higher education in a community college. I worked two jobs throughout this portion of my education, paying for it out of my pocket, and it took me 4 years to complete. I graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in 2006 while pregnant with my first child. I went on to massage school, hoping that this industry would pay better than waitressing. I worked as a massage therapist for a total of 7 years. It did not pay as well as promised and was hard on my body. I struggled financially during this time. While I was pregnant with my 4th child, my abusive husband left our family. I ended up in the same position as my mother did before me- a traumatized single mother on welfare. Eventually, I decided to return to college to obtain self-sufficiency and a better quality of life for me and my 4 children. I worked 2-3 jobs at a time throughout undergrad and was able to graduate with a 3.6 GPA and a dual Bachelor's degree in Sociology and Ethnic/Women's Studies. I have accepted a position as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Department of Ethnic Studies and plan on pursuing a PhD after completion of my Master's degree. One of the most profound things I learned from my experience is that my parents were wrong about higher education. My experience as a student at Colorado State University opened a whole new world for me- one of opportunity, growth, and hope for the future. Each of my children now hope to pursue a college education, as well. I am proud of my accomplishments as a first-generation college student and am eternally grateful for the bright future me and my children have created together.