If you are in a classroom at The University of Texas at Austin, you are probably sitting next to a first-generation college student. More than 20 percent of UT Austin undergrads are the first in their families to go to college, over 9,000 students in total. But despite this impressive number, many first-generation students can feel alone in their unique challenges.
That is why on Thursday, Nov. 8, the university community came together for First-Generation College Celebration Day. Now in its second year, the national day of celebration for first-generation college students coincides with the anniversary of the passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965, a law intended “to strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary and higher education.”
UT joined colleges and universities across the country to #celebratefirstgen by hosting its inaugural on-campus event.
“UT faculty and staff who were the first generation in their families to graduate from college also were invited to attend, as were UT alumni who were first-generation college students,” said Celena Mondie-Milner, director of New Student Services and co-chair of UT’s First-Generation Commitment Working Group. “Many of the roughly 500 guests who attended the celebration were students, faculty and staff from across campus who support first-generation college students and the university’s commitment to their success.”
Each of the executive sponsors of the event — Executive Vice President and Provost Maurie McInnis, Senior Vice Provost Rachelle Hernandez, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly, and Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Leonard Moore — attended and addressed the crowd.
“The University of Texas at Austin celebrates first-generation Longhorns not only on First-Generation College Celebration Day, but every day,” Hernandez said.
At the event, first-generation students had the opportunity to write a letter to one of their supporters, record a video testimonial about what being a first-generation college student means to them, have a professional portrait taken, enjoy a photo booth, and win prizes from campus partners such as the Texas Exes. The celebration concluded with a group photo on the Tower steps.
“We are proud to be a first-generation forward university and to be recognized nationally for our efforts to support first-generation students and their families,” said Cassandre Alvarado, executive director of Student Success Initiatives and co-chair of the First-Generation Commitment Working Group. “For example, in the past six years, we’ve raised the four-year graduation rate of first-generation students by more than 50 percent to a record high 61.5 percent. This is a proud reminder of the strength of our first-generation students and their hard work, as well as the institution’s commitment to supporting first-gen success.”