Exceeding Expectations as a First-generation Student Leader

Seth Kelly, Bellarmine University / The Center / February 23, 2022

Seth Kelly is a current first-generation senior at Bellarmine University. He has taken on multiple leadership roles during his time in college and has excelled in them all. He was a Pioneer Scholars mentor for three years–supporting incoming first-generation students in their transition to college before becoming a Pioneer Scholars Leadership Team member in his senior year. He shares his experience as a first-generation student leader below.

Coming into college, I never really considered what it meant to be first-generation. I never realized how blind I was going into this experience. My parents and I did our best to understand what a four-year degree truly meant. I was fairly introverted in high school, and on my first day of college, my Dad begged me to join at least one thing. Looking back, I am so proud of myself for exceeding his expectations beyond belief.

I am so grateful for Bellarmine University’s Pioneer Scholar Program. It was so enlightening to be around so many other first-year, first-generation students. I owe so much of my time at Bellarmine to my Pioneer Scholars mentor and my orientation leader. They inspired me to break the ice when meeting new people, try anything once, and to sleep when I am dead.

I never in a million years thought I could do what they do. They were leaders–so confident and seamless. Something I have noticed that a lot of first-generation students suffer from is imposter syndrome. I have a really hard time believing that people want to hear what I have to say, but they do. Life is about experimentation and learning from your mistakes. Life is not meant to be perfect. If it were, it would be really boring.

I have tried and failed time and time again, but I have always picked myself up. At the end of my four years, I can proudly say I served as a student ambassador, an orientation leader, the president of Alpha Psi Omega Theatre Honor Society, and as a mentor and Leadership Team member for Pioneer Scholars. Taking all of these things on was never easy–especially considering I did a play or two a semester on top of a part-time job.

I don’t know how I was able to accomplish so much in so little time, especially when you throw a pandemic into that. It is possible though, and when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. I came into college undeclared and scared of the world. I had zero idea what I wanted to do. Now, I am about to graduate with a double major in communications and theatre and am hoping to pursue a master’s in higher education. I have developed such a passion for student affairs and making sure that students have resources.

None of my accomplishments would have been possible without the Pioneer Scholars Program. My mentor shaped me into who I am. I am so proud to be first, and most importantly, I will not be last.

For more information on Bellarmine University’s approach, please visit their website here.