| by Kardelen Koldas ’15

Fifty-four years ago, the Higher Education Act was passed on November 8—a day that recently gained another meaning as the National First-Generation College Celebration Day. To celebrate its own first-generation to college students, the Colby community came together at the Pugh Center for a day of festivities, including games, food, and a rap performance.

“We’re really excited about today, to build community around today, and just to really celebrate students,” said Lexie Mucci, director of the Pugh Center. “Oftentimes, folks believe that the label of FLI [first-generation and/or low-income] is something that they should hide or be ashamed of, and we really want to say that this is something that we and this community embrace and are proud of.” 

The well-attended event was organized by the First-Generation-to-College/Low-Income Program for Student Success (FLIPS), launched in the summer of 2019 under the umbrella of the Pugh Center. It aims to support FLI students and their families as they transition to and continue their college careers. 

To share one of the many stories of FLI students, a video detailing the journey of QuestBridge student and FLIPS fellow Misael Beltran-Guzman ’22 from Toledo, Ohio, was screened. “I’m hoping that this sheds light on maybe a different narrative to what people may already be familiar with in terms of FLI students,” said Beltran-Guzman, an education and American Studies double major, “but then also helps other students to feel comfortable and to share their own unique narrative as well.” 

A Posse Scholar from Houston, Texas, Oscar Garcia ’22 felt that this day served as a reality check. “Even though we’re in 2019 … there’s still a lot of students who haven’t had that exposure to college and known anyone that has had that exposure to college,” he said. Celebrations like these “remind you that this is a major accomplishment for us.”

Staff and faculty also joined the students to acknowledge that success. First-generation college graduate Brenda de Santiago-Stewart, assistant director for programs and projects at the Colby Libraries, came out to show her support. “I want our students to know that they are not alone, that they are supported by so many people who have faced similar challenges, and opportunities,” she said. 

It’s not only on Nov. 8 that the sense of community and support is felt, said Jamya Brown ’23, a Posse Scholar from Houston, Texas, who performed a rap song with Azoya Clarke ’23 and Reagan Dennis ’23. The trio wrote the song by using community norms—be proactive rather than reactive; be inclusive never be intrusive; be accepting, honest, and respectful—decided upon by FLIPS students. “I know these people [from FLIPS] are always here and also they carry so much care with them,” Brown said. “You can almost bring anything to them and they’re like, ‘Okay, we’ll help you, we’ll take care of you.’ ” 

The programming ended with the hanging of a “FLI PROUD” banner—signed by the attendees—at the Spa, but the celebrations and support continue.  

“I feel like people are celebrated for their merit,” said Sophya Guwn ’22, a QuestBridge student from Kansas City, Mo., “but when you have merit and you overcome these obstacles—it’s something that I really think should be talked about more.”