First Generation College Student Chronicles: A Letter to My Younger HS Graduate Self

Believe when they say, “You’re going to be ok.” You have just been given another four years to contemplate what you want to do with your life and even then, you still don’t know, but you’re figuring it out. Relax, breathe, and smile, because you are fortunate in having friends who love you very much.

In third grade, you were first asked, “Are you going to college?”

It was a broad question addressed to everyone in the classroom. Pairs of tiny hands shot up to the ceiling, but you couldn’t get past the question. What was college? Was it mandatory?

Stephanie, top of the class, turned to you and saw that you didn’t raise your hand, “Aren’t you going to college? Raise your hand!”

You hastily shot your hand up, but still told her, “I’ll have to ask my mom first.”

Now, you are anticipating attending college in the fall. You will find yourself on a college campus with the acceptance letter they sent you in your pocket. It gives you a sense of validation that you belong there. You will learn with time that what you felt in that moment was imposter syndrome. There has been no mistake, you belong. Remember that when November 8, 2016 comes along. There is more to you than your skin tone, race, and gender. You are an outspoken and intelligent Latina. No words from a higher power can take that from you.

When your college dorm mate asks you to tag along and look into her club. Do it. Don’t continue wallowing in your breakup for an extra quarter. You meet people who will guide you and help you learn to forgive yourself. They hold your hair when you messed up that night, and teach you to hold your head high for the days following after.

For future reference, when someone asks you, “Do you want to go the sky?” Say no. They don’t mean that they have found a really hip place with a sky view. There will be a lot of little challenges like this for you to learn and how to face them. It’s a whole new playing field for you, so don’t be hard on yourself for not knowing how to tackle college. There has been no one to follow before you.

One evening, you and your older sister will be hanging out in her room watching tv and she will tell you how jealous she is of you. This will hurt you and you’ll want to argue. Don’t get mad. She did not have the opportunities you had growing up. The seven years difference between you and her meant that she grew up watching you travel the world and receive other financial luxuries that your parents couldn’t afford to give her or your older brother. She is still your biggest supporter and very proud of you. You are the first.

Do not be irresponsible with your money. I repeat, do not be irresponsible. You will have your friend throw a pebble at your window, and urge you to go out. Stand your ground and get that assignment done. You will have saved money and gotten ahead in your homework. Love what you learn. The resources you are being given are not available to everyone. You learn that the hard way when your student loan falls through. The gravity of your situation hits you. You are not privileged to have a fully funded college education, but you are privileged to have hard working parents who work night and day to pay it off. Remember to call your mom more.

Your voice matters, just as much as the others in and out of the classroom. Believe in yourself, because if you don’t then who else will? Otherwise, those self-entitled students will always speak over you. Remember, you belong too.

You stress so much and so often about how you’re doing in school or whether you’re smart enough. Stop it. Just because you failed that geology test or got a B on a paper you worked really hard on, it’s not the end of the world. Do go out for that walk and calm yourself down, but after that, chill. You put more value on the grades you get than the education you receive. That knowledge will be your greatest weapon, so pay attention. History is a tool you need to move forward and make the change you want to see.

There is so much you learn about the world, about people, and most importantly about yourself. Your identity gets shaped and molded again and again. You learn to grow up and take pride in knowing that your niece and nephew know what college is because of you. That’s what it means to be first generation. You’re paving a path for the little ones to follow. You’ve come so far because you have family who believes in you. You have learned what it is to be loved.

Don’t be fooled. There is still constant growing up and lessons to be learned after college, but that is something I have yet to discover for myself.

With love,


What do you think?

The following two tabs change content below.

Ana Michelle Ortiz

Ana Michelle Ortiz

Ana Michelle Ortiz is a graduating fourth year Creative Writing major from the University of California Riverside. Hailing from Echo Park, Los Angeles Ana Michelle uses her family, home, and experience as a first generation Latina to inspire her writing.

More Comments