Out of the 7.3 million students in college approximately 20% are first-generation students. Out of the 20% only two-thirds of the students are projected to graduate. The remaining students will most likely drop out due to lack of support or motivation. On November 11, Southern University and Jackson State University hosted a virtual First-Generation College Student Celebration through Zoom. The event featured Dr. Micca Knox, Mr. Jarvis Jones, and Mrs. Avis O’Bryant-Chaney, a first-generation panel put together from both, SU and JSU. These powerful individuals did not let common adversities stop them reaching their goals. Together with their words and experience, the panelists were able to supply hope and encouragement to the students present.
The first panelist for the evening was Mr. Jarvis Jones, a representative from Jackson State. Mr. Jones says “It’s not about where you’ve been. It’s where you’re going. Trust me I know.” At an early age Mr. Jones was charged with simple armed robbery. He spent the rest of his teen years and the first few years of his twenties “behind a wall and in a box”. When he returned to school, he was no longer considered a traditional student. As he spoke, he reminisced about times he wanted to quit. To keep motivated and focused, Mr. Jones says he is in constant competition with himself.
The second panelist was Mrs. Avis O’Bryant-Chaney, Southern University’s Freshman Seminar Professor. The story of Mrs. Chaney was quite different. She spoke how in her family no one believed in education. In her family the life was “You went to work and worked until you died.” However, after seeing her husband graduate, she decided it was time to continue her education. Ms. Chaney said, “I was 27, married with two children when I went back to school.” She attended Morris College where although she was not a traditional student, she still became involved. She joined a non-traditional student organization named “Neon.” Mrs. Chaney exited college with honors and as the organization’s queen. “Although going through college gets hard,” Mrs. Chaney says, “Don’t give up, you are here for a reason.”
“Don’t settle”, were the words from the final panelist, Dr. Micca Knox, a graduate of Jackson State University now serving as the Assistant Executive Director for Early Childhood Academy. Although she was a traditional student, there were still several challenges. The lesson from Dr. Knox was simply that, “Life is going to happen”. We should not let the obstacles of life stop us from completing our goals. Dr. Knox’s key to success is to, “surround yourself with people who want to be great and vice versa.”
The event featured first hand experiences and accounts for both the speakers and the students. This gave first- generation students the motivation needed to be the first ones in their families to continue higher education. American actor Will Smith said it best as “Shout-out to all the kids, teenagers, college students, grad students...EVERYBODY who’s stepping on the path to become the becoming the Greatest You there is!”