A Long Way From Home

A Long Way From Home

First-generation college students face obstacles but find their own ways to thrive

By Ruth Jacobs | Photos by Fred Field


For a young man who has beaten long odds, Cabada is modest—perhaps even slightly unsure of himself. He does not see his story as remarkable. But one of his high school teachers has a different perspective. "I was always amazed, once I learned about his background, how motivated, how much perseverance he put in to make sure he didn't fall into any trap,— said Alan Seigel, a teacher at Manual Arts High School. "It always seemed to me that he knew that there was something he could do in terms of college. He really actively pursued it.— But hard work alone does not make a Colby education accessible.

Many first-generation students, like Cabada, say the reason they were able to attend Colby arrived in their mailboxes: their financial aid packages. Other first-generation college students come to Colby from financially secure middle class families. Not all are minorities, and not all attended low-performing high schools. Many make dean's list their first semester. What all these students seem to share, beyond intense motivation, is the desire to have choices in life—to be able to choose a profession they are passionate about and make a living at it, to be able to choose to live somewhere other than where they grew up.

The details of how they got to Colby, what they experience on Mayflower Hill, and what they will do once they leave are as unique as each individual.

,I just kind of drive myself . . . It‰s up to me to push myself for whatever I want to achieve,Š said Ann Marchaland ‰07, seen here practicing the piano at Colby.
Photo by Fred Field
Ann Marchaland's parents both grew up in the rural area of New York where they raised their children. Mary Ann and Andrew Marchaland came from families of 10 and eight children respectively. Mary Ann Marchaland might have attended college had she felt the opportunity was open to her, but she did not. She went straight to work after high school. She moved about 45 minutes from home to settle in the community where Andrew Marchaland's father owned a dairy farm. The young couple bought a piece of land next to the farm and built a home where they raised Ann, 20, and her brother, Andrew, 21.

Silos and red barns dot the rolling hills and the edges of cornfields around the town of Easton, where there are more cows than people and from which many natives never venture far. Though Manhattan is less than a four-hour drive, Ann Marchaland's brother has only visited once—dressed in his farm clothes. He went along for the ride while a friend cashed a check, got a parking ticket, and returned home. Ann Marchaland '07, on the other hand, loves the city. She once sang in Carnegie Hall.

"I'm kind of the anomaly in my family,— said the Colby junior, a flutist and an alto who has sung with the Colby College Chorale in Prague and is studying in Cork, Ireland, during the spring semester. Some of her 41 cousins have attended local colleges, but she's the first to go far and to a selective private school like Colby. Her brother works on the family farm, where 120 milking cows roam in the pasture daily and where he works long hours in the spring plowing, planting, and fertilizing over 60 acres of crop fields. The first male Marchaland of this generation, he is considering eventually taking over the farm from his uncle. Their father, who worked as the town's highway superintendent for 10 years, now works in a job without the politics, operating heavy machinery. Their mother has worked her way up in the medical devices manufacturing business. "It took me a long time to get where I am and I've always told the kids you get a lot further a lot more quickly if you go to college,— she said.

Mary Ann Marchaland exudes pride and contentment as she describes how her daughter parlayed her self-motivation into academic and musical accomplishment, reminding herself that she's allowed to boast—she's the mother. The two Marchaland women, who share an interest in music, enjoy clothes shopping together, and who don't care for hanging out on the farm, spent a lot of time together during the high school years, much of it in the car. "My mom drove me wherever I needed to be,— Marchaland said. "She was very supportive of whatever I wanted to do.—

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