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Tag: first generation college student

Opportunity All Year Round

One of the most helpful features of being a Chicago Scholar is that the support and guidance doesn’t end when the school year does. Oh no, CS doesn’t close its doors and stop sending out emails when summer vacation hits. The CS staff are always at work — in fact, the staff work becomes twice as hard during the summer.

Not every scholar has a set plan going into their summer, but that doesn’t mean they plan on devoting their time to relaxing on the couch from the end of May to September. That was the case for me. At the tail end of my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to get a job or internship so I could have some money going into college and pay for my books. The only problem was that I had so much focus on my college decision and other conflicts I had at home, I put my summer plans on the back burner.

Year 1 Scholars meet every month, and in February, the host gave us the normal dose of events and opportunities that CS Alumni are involved in. They included an opportunity to be a summer intern for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). I have been familiar with the CTA for all of my life; I’ve ridden the buses and trains for years, and some of my family members are bus and train operators. I jumped on the opportunity and sent in my resume. A month and a half later, I accepted their job offer and got ready to do my onboarding as an official CTA summer intern.

As a summer intern, my job was to work through virtual and in-person sessions at Olive Harvey College. I participated in professional development workshops both on campus and Zoom and completed self-guided work assigned by Accenture Chicago. It was great collaborating with cohort members from other high schools around Chicagoland to produce a capstone project about mental and physical wellness within the CTA.

My main takeaway from this experience was how much I learned about the CTA as a whole. I was aware of the different bus and train lines, but not how far they go. I really enjoyed learning more about the different neighborhoods and communities that have made the train lines part of their urban culture. For example, White Sox-35th is the Red Line stop where people get off to go see the White Sox play at Guaranteed Rate Field. On a line that I’d ridden countless times, I had no idea how central it was to the neighborhood.

CS helps Scholars plan out their summer plans, whether that be a job or another means of college preparation. Before I wrote this article, I received a call from a representative in the Leadership Development Team about an internship opportunity. Although I have an internship already setup for myself, the connection still remains on the table if my plans change. CS keeps the door of opportunity open all year round.

If I said It Was Easy, I’d Be Lying

Never in my life would I have imagined the significance of May 20th, 2023. Sure, it’s the same
week as my birthday, May 14th, but it’s also the date of the biggest accomplishment of my life:
graduating from college.

It’s something that still feels surreal to me. Yeah, I knew I would get it done, but to consider the
hardships faced, the long nights put in, and the sacrifices made, it makes it even more special.
That’s why in my Instagram bio, I made sure I put “Marquette ALUM,” because that alumni
status hits a little different when you’ve been through some stuff.

If you asked me about college when I was a sophomore in high school, I would have looked at
you like you were crazy. I always knew I was a good student, but I wasn’t sure if I would be able
to handle the college lifestyle and the work that comes with it. However, joining programs like
Chicago Scholars and College Possible made me realize that college was the place for me and
gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams.

When the week of May 20th approached, it was a week full of celebration and glory, but also a
time for reflecting as well. A time to reflect on how far I’ve come, who I am now and who I was
before. A lot has happened since August of 2019 when I first arrived on campus. And it all led to
me being who I am today. While I wish the events I’ve seen during my college years didn’t
cause so much chaos, I feel like those moments helped me grow and see things in a different

And to say I was able to accomplish everything I wanted through everything I’ve experienced is
what makes graduating mean so much to me.

Being a Black, first-generation college student from Chicago isn’t easy. Going into a
predominantly white institution (PWI) like Marquette and having to adjust from the areas I was
so accustomed to growing up wasn’t easy. No matter how much preparation you get, you’re still
going to experience the tough ends of being in college. But through the trials and tribulations,
the reason I went through it all finally came to light on May 20th.

As I crossed the stage at Fiserv Forum, my friends and I couldn’t keep our emotions together,
cheering as we watched our other friends cross the stage. We even joined each other's
Instagram live despite us literally standing next to one another. Yes, we were that ecstatic.

If I said graduating college would be easy, I’d be lying. Yet, that relieving feeling of crossing the
stage, seeing my friends and family happy, and knowing all this work resulted in something,
made it all worth the while. Thank you, Marquette, for making me realize the reason why I went
through it all in the first place.

A Scholar’s Transition to College

Now that society has started to return to normal, there’s been a lot of interest in how students experienced the earth-shattering changes of the pandemic, from Zoom lectures to online quizzes to hoping that you and your classmates can find a way to hang out together after your last Zoom ends. And you definitely understood your history teacher’s glitchy lecture on Reconstruction, right? But it was also a huge leap to go from remote classes back to normal, in-person classes as the pandemic eased up. For me, I had to do it in my last year of high school as a year one Chicago Scholar.

At the start of my senior year, the world was still testing the waters when it came to opening back up. All school buildings were open to students and faculty, but at any sign of COVID, they would shut down and go fully remote again. Extracurriculars were back, but they could be canceled in a heartbeat. Until second semester, we had to wear masks in the classroom. As a senior, I could never be sure that I’d have all the traditional milestones other classes enjoyed.

The hardest part was the stress of college applications. I had organized myself when preparing for college applications, but I was nowhere near ready as I thought. I had planned to meet with college admissions reps at Onsite, but had to face the reality of those meetings being virtual. This meant that I had to work especially hard on all materials I submitted. It was a demoralizing challenge to say the least. I would look at admissions reps that were willing to meet with me over Zoom, doing my best to smile and be professional while on the inside, I was freaking out because there was no one at home to help me stay calm.

Thankfully, as a year one Scholar, I had resources to help me get through these difficulties. My cohort mentors kept me motivated with my applications and didn’t interrogate me about whether any decisions were made. On top of that, Chicago Scholars offered workshops in our monthly meetings to practice Zoom etiquette and how to best get organized and feel confident when we eventually pressed that submit button.

Now that I’m in year two attending Columbia College, where normalcy has officially returned and is encouraged to students, I look back and reflect on the support I had to guide me through the challenging year. It is a bittersweet reflection, though, because I can’t help but think about the 8th grade students that transitioned into high school at the same time I was exiting it. I had that moment before the pandemic struck, and it was difficult for me. I can only hope that they had a support system similar to the one I was lucky enough to have, to remind them they aren’t alone in the stressful transition. Many students can attest to that.