Some students take attending college for granted; their parents received bachelor’s degrees and perhaps even their grandparents did. Growing up, attending college was a given.
For others, the privilege of attending a university was long contemplated and not guaranteed. This fall, these students prepare to receive their degrees with the unique pride of being a first-generation graduate.
After growing up in Germany, mathematics senior Viven Beck and her mother relocated from Germany to San Francisco when she was six-years-old.
“She worked all kinds of jobs to support us: babysitting, house cleaning, massaging people and heavy lifting of machinery,” Beck said. “Now she works as a realtor. You just have to pass the exam and then you can practice real estate without a bachelor’s [degree].”
Since middle school, Beck knew she wanted to attend college. She felt it was naturally expected of her and she later attended a highly competitive high school.
“My mom finances my way through college,” Beck said. “That’s why I’m graduating in three years and a quarter, because I don’t want to waste any of her money.”
Beck thinks that she blended in with Cal Poly students during her time here, regardless of her first-generation status.
“Physically speaking, I’ve fit in with everyone else here,” Beck said. “Because I have blonde hair, I think that people don’t naturally assume I’m first-generation.”
Beck has plenty of supporters planning on attending her graduation, including her grandmother who will be visiting from Germany.
Following commencement, Beck wants to jump straight into the work force.
“I’m interviewing with companies in San Francisco and actually just got my first job offer, from Motive Power,” Beck said. “I want to build a career as fast as I can. I have big aspirations, so I want to get started right away.”
For Beck, attending college will be the defining factor in the differences between her own life and her mother’s.
“I think attending college will give me more opportunities in life. My mom made the best out of everything that she had and she’s more street smart than I will ever be,” Beck said. “It’s hard to say that I’ll have a better life because of a college degree, but I’ll definitely have a different one.”
For environmental management and protection senior Divine Godinez, college was the answer to avoiding the struggles her family experienced.
Her Mexican-American parents were more focused on making money to provide better opportunities for their children than going to school.
“My mom told me and my siblings that if I wanted a better life than what they had, I needed to go to college,” Godinez said. “That way, I could take care of them like they took care of me.”
In high school, Godinez was set on going to college. She took every AP class offered and due to the high pressure, she often experienced anxiety.
When Godinez was accepted into Cal Poly, her parents were thrilled, although they tried to get her to continue living with them in Santa Maria. Godinez originally wanted to move further from home, so she remained firm that she wanted to live in the residence halls.
Godinez noted that she didn’t feel like she stood out at all as a first-generation college student during her time at Cal Poly. Godinez received financial support through the school but the remainder of her education will be paid off in student loans.
The upcoming fall graduation is a huge event for the Godinez family.
“They are beyond excited and haven’t stopped talking about it,” Godinez said. “I have such a big family, so 10 tickets isn’t enough. I’m first in the family to ever graduate.”
After graduation, Godinez wants to move to Seattle or San Diego and do stream restoration work.
“It will be extremely important for my kids to go to school one day,” Godinez said. “I’d like them to familiarize themselves with different topics while remembering who they are and where they came from without judging others. College helped a lot with that for me.”
While he is not a first-generation American, business administration senior Nick Sinai is the first in his family to have the opportunity to attend college.
“I wanted to go to college since I first knew what college was when I was young,” Sinai said. “That started with my mom and dad talking about smart people and the colleges they went to.”
Sinai worked rigorously in high school. In some ways, he felt like a first generation high school student as well because his parents focused on work while in high school. Because of this, studying for the SAT and applying to colleges were extra challenging tasks.
“I wanted to make my dad happy and live up to the ideal that I had understood success to be,” Sinai said. “A lot of it was pretty ego-driven. I wanted to go to a prestigious college and make a lot of money.”
Though Cal Poly was a safety school for Sinai, he says that he wouldn’t want it any other way. For his parents, the main purpose of Sinai attending college was to get into the business world and make money.
“They stuck to that ideal for a while. I wanted to change majors to computer science and my dad told me he wouldn’t pay for college,” Sinai said. “Later, he told me to do what I wanted, but at that point I didn’t want to add more time, so I took the comp-sci minor instead.”
Throughout his time at Cal Poly, Sinai’s understanding of college continued to evolve.
“College allows you to experience different skill sets and learn from different backgrounds. You can be around people who have a similar standard of thinking,” Sinai said. “It’s a time to grow and become an independent person.”
Sinai hopes to earn an internship focusing on product management this summer.
“I think my parents will be sad if I move to New York or something, but I think they’ll realize that it’s an amazing thing that they successfully gave me an opportunity they didn’t have,” Sinai said.
Down the line, Sinai hopes to start his own company.
“I would love to be a founder of some sort of new technology or program or system that operates in the industry of alternative education,” Sinai said. “I think online courses are a cool way to go about that.”
Regardless of his views on alternative education, Sinai has no regrets on his college experience.
“College is dope. Glad I came, it’s been a fun ride,” Sinai said.