Patrick Harris: Paving the Way
Aug. 20, 2014
Patrick Harris is a senior from Southfield, Michigan, majoring in elementary education: language arts and minoring in teaching English as a second language. He is a student leader, scholarship winner and volunteer who has interned with the U.S. Department of Defense and studied abroad in South Africa. He was selected to serve on the 2014-15 Homecoming Court.
When I arrived onto Michigan State University's campus for freshman move-in, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt the stereotypical emotions of an incoming freshman such as nervousness, excitement and exhaustion (from all of the shopping, packing and moving, haha).
But being a first-generation college student, there were added emotions of anxiety, fear, confusion and feeling completely lost. I am part of a minority group of students who are paving the way, being the FIRST person in their family to go college.
My parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles made the choice to go directly to work after high school and not pursue a post-high school degree. So for me, what I thought college would be like was based on movies such as the horror film "The Roommate" and the Spike Lee classic "School Daze" and television shows such as "A Different World" and "Sister Sister".
Being a first generation college student has its challenges. The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was the pressure to be PERFECT. I have four younger siblings at home and I wanted to lay down the most positive, impactful and perfect foundation for them. I HAD to do well in my academics, be involved in extra-circulars and complete numerous hours of community service PERFECTLY.
If I did this I'd show them that they too could come to universities such as Michigan State and create a positive name for themselves while doing incredible things. So many people might feel like this is a good kind of pressure to have. However, it might be easier if you'd received guidance from people in your family or even friends whom had attended a university in the first place. I was the first. There weren't any before me; I was going into this new world completely blind.
Experienced advice about what to expect when transitioning into college would've been most helpful. It's challenging going from only studying maybe 1-2 hours a week and scoring well on an assessment to having to study 5-10 hours a week to ensure you're not only doing well on exams but that you're keeping up with material at hand.
It's difficult having your morals, values and patience challenged by some of your fellow Spartans. Many first-generation college students are students of color, like myself, and coming to a predominately white institution has its unique challenges.
In the beginning, I often felt too black to hang out with the white kids and too white to hang out with the black kids. I encountered acts of racism on a campus that I had high hopes for. But with every racist act and person that came my way, was a positive, engaging and loving person and experience. Thankfully, I had a sprinkle of students from my high school that assisted me with my transition and I joined the Multi-Racial Unity Living Experience (MRULE) that helped me make friends from all different backgrounds.
Releasing the pressure to be perfect for my siblings and myself, I found it just fine to make mistakes. When I gave myself permission to be who I was wholeheartedly, I found that being a first-generation college student isn't so bad after all; it's a blessing. I've been put in a unique situation to lay the first footsteps for my lineage. While the pressure to be the best may be stressful it helps me strive to be the best I can be and I wouldn't have it any other way.