College is filled with firsts: new experiences, new people and new interests. This can be nerve-wracking for any first-year student. But for first-generation college students, there is more at stake.

Every first-gen student’s experience is different but it often can involve managing finances, charting unknown territory, learning which resources are actually helpful, battling impostor syndrome, feeling pressures from family and more. The transition can be difficult, but it is important to know, you are more than capable of figuring it all out.

I am the daughter of a Khmer Rouge genocide survivor and carry with me my mother’s resilience and sacrifices. I am the daughter of a father who came from unknowns to successes but instilled in me that education was something he wished he never let slip so I would never do the same. It is important to me that as I grow as a person, I never forget my roots, my “why” and how being multiracial has shaped me. 

As I am now an incoming senior (it goes by faster than you think), I want you to know that you should always bring your perspectives to the classroom, speak up and be proud of your history. You can make a great impact on shaping your education the way you want it. As I’ve experienced, this can be a process. And that’s OK. 

My freshman year was about establishing and finding a community that pushed me, strengthened me and made me happy. I signed up for the Building Relationships in Diverse Gonzaga Environments (BRIDGE) pre-orientation program which was an empowering way to enter college among other students of color, LGBTQ+ students and first-generation students.

If you did not sign up for this program, you can also get involved by applying to be a BRIDGE mentor as a sophomore, junior or senior and get involved with the office of Diversity, Inclusion, Community and Equity (DICE) in the meantime.

I then actively joined cultural clubs: Asian American Union and Filipino American Student Union, specifically. These spaces inspired me to get involved with issues on campus I cared about such as intergroup dialogue to foster intercultural communication and DREAM week to raise awareness on immigration rights. I also found some of the most special people in my life through these clubs, who are still my friends to this day.

Additionally, I joined the student newspaper as a staff writer and am still a part of the team, now as a news editor. As an international relations and journalism double major, I wanted to make sure that I was involved in cocurriculars that could develop my professional skills. 

With this being said, I encourage you to join a lot of different groups and meet a variety of people. There is a lot available on campus to discover. Gonzaga is there to work for you and to contribute to your growth so utilize its many resources. It’s important to feel comfortable but also to push yourself out of your comfort zone and never limit what you choose to seek out. 

It is already an accomplishment to maneuver the college application process and be accepted to various universities. And now you have chosen GU and are eagerly waiting for the school year to start.

Congratulations. GU is lucky to have you. You define the next generation of scholars and professionals. I hope you come to realize that there will be a community, your own community, that will support you even when you feel lost. 

But remember, you are your own best guide. Live your freshman year as the main character you know you are.

Melina Benjamin is a news editor.

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