For this year’s First-Generation Week celebration, we asked students like Zikra Naz to share what it means to be a first-generation student (or First Osprey), how it impacted their college experience and what support they have received since choosing Stockton University.
In Zikra’s eyes, being first-generation means not only finding mentors but also becoming one yourself.
Being first gen means being a leader: someone who takes that first step towards something greater.
Starting college was an adjustment. As a first-generation student, I am not only learning and teaching myself, but my family is also on this educational journey with me. Being the first to get an education sometimes comes with guilt, loneliness and pressure; I feel bad that I have this opportunity that other family members did not, and getting a bachelor’s degree can be intimidating with all eyes on you.
Everyone has a story – some full of happiness but others full of pain – and I want to be in a position where I can help them through their journey of self-discovery like my mentors did for me.
As a first-generation student learning to navigate and understand college life without the help of your family, it feels like you can't afford to fail.
However, Stockton University is a small school, so I can easily get the help I need in certain areas, like First Ospreys, which is a great resource for all first-gen students, and the GOALS/GEAR UP program that I was part of as a first-year student.
The amount of help I got from the GOALS/GEAR UP program was everything I needed to start off on the right foot. They helped me with college essays and applications, the financial aid process and even offered me an amazing employment opportunity: I am now a mentor in that program, helping students get ready for college. It’s genuinely such a great program. Shout-out to Mr. Ty’re (Robinson) and Ms. Roxy (Perez)!
I have also had the opportunity to become president of the Muslim Student Association. Learning more about my religion has had a positive impact on me as a student and as a person. Planning and organizing events like the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new meditation room and rally for the Free Palestine movement has made me more aware of the injustice happening in the world. It takes small organizations like the MSA to open the door to those conversations.
Another impactful experience for me was substituting at a local high school, where I met students who were being punished and isolated for getting into fights outside of school and missing classes, but it was revealed to me that they were dealing with personal challenges such as grieving of a loved one and even facing homelessness. They didn’t need to be isolated; they needed help beyond what a teacher should be expected to find solutions to.
You know, after graduating from Stockton, I look forward to finding ways to advocate for marginalized, underserved and misunderstood communities. Everyone has a story – some full of happiness but others full of pain – and I want to be in a position where I can help them through their journey of self-discovery like my mentors did for me.
Elevate Your Voice!
Galloway, N.J. – There are three things that students should be focused on during their higher education journey – themselves, their circle and the finish line waiting for them once they earn their degree – according to Michael Spence, first-generation college graduate and keynote speaker at the First to Soar Celebration on Nov. 7
“For all of us in here, we're going down the path that no one in our family has ever gone down, and sometimes, it's probably one of the hardest things to go through,” Spence told the audience of first-generation students at Stockton. “See, it's easy to walk in someone else's footprints, but how about walking footprints that were never laid out for you? How do I make this journey that I got sent out to do and that I wanted people before me to do? I’m here to tell you that that pressure could either burst pipes or turn into diamonds, but it’s all about what you’re made of. I’m here to tell you that this journey here is not here to burst your pipes but to help make you a diamond.”
— Story by Loukaia Taylor