AUSTIN, Texas — During the first event of its kind at UT Austin, the university celebrated first-generation graduates at a special ceremony created to recognize and celebrate their achievements. The First-Gen Longhorn Graduation reflects broader efforts across the campus to improve support for first-generation Longhorns, who represent more than 20% of current undergraduate students.
About 140 students participated in the event on May 22, 2019, which was attended by families and friends, staff members and university leadership.
Judith Lima, a first-generation graduate of the McCombs School of Business, gave a moving speech to her fellow graduates at the ceremony.
“What is the American dream? For my parents, their American dream is this very moment,” Lima said in her address. “Today, sitting among us are students enrolling in the top medical schools in the nation, others who will attend law school to fight for immigration rights, others who will educate the next generation of game changers. And together we will bring innovation, diversity, and grit into this new wave of professionals in order to change the world.”
Just last month, the Center for First-generation Student Success recognized UT Austin for its commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students. As UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves said at the time of the recognition, “The purpose of our university is to unlock potential, and when we foster upward mobility by providing opportunities for students to be the first in their families to earn college degrees, we live up to that purpose.”
The inaugural ceremony was supported and produced by several units across campus, including staff members from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, and the Multicultural Engagement Center.
“This is such an amazing occasion to celebrate the efforts and success of first-generation college graduates,” said Kirstin Vaughn, a first-generation graduate from the Moody College of Communication who gave the closing remarks at the ceremony. “To me, being a first-gen student means representing something larger than ourselves. We are here today as products of all the love, support, and care that has been poured into us.”
Many offices across campus have made considerable efforts to improve support for first-generation students. One new program is the First-Generation Student Welcome that will now be offered during summer Freshman and Transfer Orientation. Orientation advisors who are also first-generation students will lead a panel discussion, sharing personal stories, advice and resources. Nearly 30% of orientation advisors identify as first-generation.
The broader goal is to create an environment for new students to build relationships and community with 9,000 fellow first-generation Longhorns. There is a similar program for their parents and families during Family Orientation.