A new holiday was formed in 2017 to honor a special group of college students. The Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Center for First-generation Student Success designated Nov. 8 as National First-Generation College Celebration Day. On November 8, Grace College got in on the action and planned an event to recognize and celebrate its first-generation students.
Grace’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) invited first-generation college students from all of campus – including current students, faculty and staff members – to a special event.
“CDI exists to ensure all students are represented and cared for on campus,” said Kearstin Criswell, director for student involvement at Grace. “We knew we wanted to better represent our first-generation students, but weren’t sure how to serve them better. We decided to start this year with a first-of-its-kind event on campus to encourage them.”
Kierstyn Worthem is the student coordinator for CDI. “I want first-generation students to feel seen and celebrated, appreciated and welcomed,” said Worthem. “We want them to realize that being a first-generation student isn’t just something to identify as, but to celebrate.”
Criswell and Worthem spearheaded the event planning to recognize the challenges of first-generation students, honor their bravery and provide resources to help them succeed.
The Thursday afternoon event was a come-and-go social with ice cream cake and specialty coffee served by resident life staff, along with representatives from the Center for Career Connections to discuss networking and professional development opportunities. Students also enjoyed a Polaroid photobooth and short addresses from Criswell and Dr. Jared Burkholder, chair of the History and Political Science Department. Criswell and Burkholder shared about their experiences as first-generation students.
Burkholder described himself as a “self-taught academic” who was unaware of any of the resources available to him while in college. Criswell shared that she was orphaned as a child and was literally dropped off at college by her guardians. “As a first-generation student, I am so glad I was able to earn a college degree, but it was hard to do alone,” she said.
Students in attendance identified with Burkholder’s and Criswell’s experiences. “My mom told me she wasn’t worried if I failed out,” said Thomas Throgmorton, a senior. “She was ecstatic that I got accepted to Grace and just wanted me to try.”
Criswell said the first-time event was a success. “We’re very pleased with the turn-out and look forward to doing more at Grace to support our first-generation students.”