What It’s Really Like To Be The First In Your Family To Get A Degree

Photo: Courtesy of Alana Battalino..
When I was a senior in high school, the School District of Philadelphia cut almost every guidance counsellor position in the city. Members of my graduating class were left to our own devices when it came to navigating one of the biggest decisions of our life: going to college.
The lack of resources was a challenge for many. But for a first-generation college student like myself, it was a completely different ballgame. I scrambled to try and learn everything I could about applying to college. Majors, FAFSA forms, scholarship deadlines. You name it, I was Googling it.
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As the first in my family to attend college it became my responsibility to teach what I could to my parents. After countless conversations at the kitchen table, things eventually did work out. I applied and got into my top choice, Marymount Manhattan College, where I decided to study communications.
Four years later, I’m graduating with that hard-earned degree and reflecting back to the beginning of this journey. And I’m starting to realise just how much I was shaped by this experience.
As a first-generation college graduate, I feel an immense pressure to land in a career that pays off. I want to ensure that all of the time and money (Hello, student loan payments!) put into my higher education has been worth it.
Of course, there are unknowns, and at times the future can seem intimidating. But as a young woman entering the communications industry, I feel optimistic about my choices.
illustrated by Paola Delucca.
My experiences in life have lead me to believe that near anything is possible if you are tenacious, resilient, and resourceful. Yes, there were discouraging deterrents, like getting rejected from a scholarship, twice. But I learned to be persistent in my pursuits and ultimately achieved many of those goals (I received the scholarship the third time around).
As I enter the real world post graduation, I want to embody the spirit of Mad Men’s Peggy Olson — not as a timid typist, but as Peggy Olson after she has already bloomed into what she can be. And eventually, I hope to be in the position where I can use my experiences and that guiding spirit to help propel the educations and careers of other young women forward.
When I was a frantic high school senior in 2014, I thought that being the first in my family to attend college meant that I was at a disadvantage. Four years later, I know that’s not the case. I can write my own destiny. And while there will be bumps in the road, my experience has taught me that with hard work and a dash of that tenacious Peggy Olson spirit, the future will be bright.
Alana Battalino recently graduated after studying communications and digital media video production at Marymount Manhattan College. She plans to move home to Philadelphia and secure a full-time job in her field.
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