‘I thought I would never make it’: groundbreaking grads on their success

Nia Augustine’s family never thought she would go to college. 实际上, before she applied, her family didn’t really understand the point. “My mom’s first question was ‘why?’” This put Augustine’s decision into perspective. “For some people it is assumed they will go to college from birth. This wasn’t how it was for me.” In May, Augustine graduated from the University of Virginia with a bachelor of science degree in kinesiology.

When Augustine’s graduation day finally came, she and her family were relieved and proud. They also found it a little poignant. “I was exhilarated to know that I’ve completed a milestone that many others haven’t,“ 她说. Augustine plans to combine her interest in healthcare with her desire to help minority communities by becoming a regional manager at a hospital.

Augustine’s advice for the next generation of college students is to ask for help. “ As first-generation students, we are used to doing everything by ourselves and we should take pride in our resilience. But seeking help when we need it is essential for our success.”

Christopher Hernandez is the first person in his family become a PhD candidate and an astrophysicist.

“Getting to college was actually one of my biggest dreams growing up. To finally be able to accomplish that, I feel like I’m beginning a brand new journey for myself,“ 他说. A first-generation college student, Hernandez is humbled to be a role model for younger relatives. “I think about my younger cousins and my other family members and I’m glad to be someone they can look up to. Now they have the opportunity to say, '出色地, if he could do it, then I can do it too.’”

Entering a top research institution was a big culture shock to him. As a Latino man, he found it difficult to feel welcomed in the white-dominated field of astrophysics. He now plans on sharing his love of science with younger students. “My goal is to become a professor and make science more accessible to others because physics and astronomy can sometimes be a very elitist field,“ 他说.

For younger students thinking about entering college and pursuing higher education, Hernandez stressed the importance of building a community. He concluded: “If it wasn’t for the help of my family, friends, and peers, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

When Isabelle Woloson’s story went viral in May – dancing in her cap and gown as she became the first woman with Down syndrome to graduate from a Colorado college or university – her excitement was palpable. Imagine then how she felt a few weeks later, when she received personal congratulations in the mail for her achievement from the Colorado senate.

“Isabelle is a trailblazer and role model for other students … The Colorado Senate wish her the best as she moves into the next chapter of her life,” the certificate read.

Talking about it now, Woloson is ecstatic. “It feels empowering, and I don’t want to just be the first person with a disability to have graduated, but to have other people with other disabilities to be able to graduate too. To be an inspiration for others,“ 她说.

Her plan for the future is to help others as a life coach. The advice she would give to them? “Just persevere. And always have that motivation towards what you want to do after graduating,“ 她说. “I really feel confident because now I have a lot of opportunities. I feel like I can just do whatever I want.”

When Sarah Ondak joined the Stanford rowing team in her freshman year of college, she felt totally alone. But now, as she graduates as the university’s first trans rower, she feels included, empowered, and overwhelmed with happiness.

“I thought I would never make it, 你懂?” she laughs, when asked how she felt posing for her graduation photo. “I had seen the pictures of pretty white dresses, the red sashes, and all the celebratory poses, and I just never thought that would be me. But four years come by in a flash, and now I am someone my younger self would have been really proud to be. I’m so happy.”

When she first started at Stanford, 她说, a lot of LGBTQ+ issues weren’t spoken about – now she leaves behind a different kind of legacy. “Just by existing as I was, I was making a space. I’m really hopeful that it won’t be as hard for other people in the future.”

Her advice to others like her, who may want to attend college but don’t know how they will fit in, 很简单:Don’t be afraid to use your voice. Because most of the time people are willing to listen, they’re just too afraid to ask for themselves.”

最近, Ahmed Muhammad became the first Black male valedictorian of Oakland Technical High School. While he was happy to graduate this year, he was just as eager to begin his college journey. “It was nice to see our achievements come together in a nice in-person graduation, and college feels like it will be a much-needed reset,“ 他说. His family was understandably proud of his achievements and Muhammad credits their love and support with helping him graduate at the top of his class.

Although this achievement is memorable, for Muhammad it illuminated a prevalent problem in the high school education system. “Being the first Black male valedictorian at my school is not an achievement at all. It shows that our school system has failed a lot of bright, capable people.”

To combat this issue, Muhammad created Kits Cubed, a non-profit organization that creates and sends science kits to young students all over the country. “It helps with the lack of resources and opportunities granted to young students, especially in my community. This is my way of paying my love of science forward to the next generation.”

Muhammad will be studying engineering at Stanford University. His piece of advice for the next generation? “Do everything that you love. When you do what you love, you feel fulfilled and prepared for a new chapter in life.”

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