Holy Cross students, from left, Vanessa Cervantes ’26, Maria “Majo” Aguilar ’25, Danna Carrillo ’24, and Ebi Alike ’23, all members of HCF1RST, sit at a booth welcoming students during a week celebrating first-generation students at Holy Cross. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Holy Cross)
Tereza Saliu ’23 remembers entering the unknown as a first-generation college student. Like many first-gen students across the country, each experience on a new campus – sometimes far from home – sparked questions.
But, in her early years as a college student, she wasn’t sure if they were relevant.
“It is difficult. The first two years, I felt like there was a barrier, like, if I asked this it may be a dumb question or I would sound weird,” Saliu said. “But, over time, I realized outreach is important. No one is going to tell you ‘No.’ There is always someone out there that’s going to help you.”
Two years later, Saliu sat at a table on the first floor of Hogan Campus Center at the College of the Holy Cross with the confidence to help others who may be experiencing some of the same feelings. While she may not have the answer to every question, she knows that someone on campus will.
Saliu is co-chair for HCF1RST, a student group that helps tell first-gen stories and match students with resources. On Monday, Danna Carrillo ’24, the group’s social media coordinator, and Diana Chavez ’24, treasurer, joined Saliu to kick off Holy Cross’ national celebration of first-generation students with a booth inside Hogan.
“It’s really helpful to know that there are other students out there that are going through the same struggles,” Carrillo said. “I know for me, I deal with a lot of imposter syndrome. So relating with other students, it makes me feel that I’m not alone.”
The events this week are geared toward connecting first-generation students past and present. On Tuesday, the College will host a mentoring dinner and on Thursday, the event “No One Told Me! Being First Generation on The Hill” will bring students together. On Wednesday, an inaugural alumni networking panel will take place virtually.
The week wraps up on Friday with an event that allows students to handwrite letters to family and friends to express how important they are in their lives, a way of connecting their lives on campus to those at home.
“My parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college so I felt very lucky and blessed to have that opportunity,” said Saliu, whose parents are from Albania and Greece. “It pushed me to do something better, not only for me but for my parents.”
It’s a bond many students on campus share. Because of that, there’s a community at Holy Cross that’s open to helping each other, whether it’s finding the correct building for a class or securing an internship.
“We should recognize first-generation students every day, not just this week,” Chavez said. “Because it’s honestly very difficult to navigate college. Being the first in your family, you’re kind of on your own.”
The week allows the first-generation community to come together and answer any questions or aid in any struggles others may be having.
“It’s a huge difference from high school,” Carrillo said. “Just throwing myself into college was really hard. But the services that Holy Cross offers really helped a lot.”
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