Generational Pride & Niner Pride, the Perfect Combo

Shayauna Newsom, University of North Carolina at Charlotte / The Center / May 24, 2023

Two first-gen graduates posing at University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Our Charlotte Forty-Niners have pioneered, persevered, and prospered and now they get to reap the rewards of a long-time coming, graduation season.

This spring, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte hosted its first-ever ‘First-Generation Graduation Celebration’. This was made possible through the collaboration of ‘First-Gen Niners’, the first-gen led student organization dedicated to students who ‘get it’, Transition & Success initiatives, and Alumni Engagement. Charlotte is filled with change-makers and people that pioneer and forge paths that have not yet been paved and our first-generation students are the prime example of that. 34% of Charlotte’s students identify as first-generation and there has been a distinct need to increase visibility and awareness of first-gen efforts on campus. This semester proved to be no different.

In previous semesters, ‘First-Gen Niners’ were fundraising to provide honor stoles to first-generation students and this year they were the most important collaborators that made ‘First-Generation Graduation Celebration’ possible. With the support of their faculty advisor and president, Transition & Success provided honor cords and dessert reception for first-generation students that wished to attend the first ‘First-Generation Graduation Celebration’. This event happened during Transition & Success Initiative’s ‘Spring Family Weekend’, with an acknowledgment that often this accomplishment means just as much to First-gen students as their families.

First-generation students arrived and sat for a ceremony including 4 speakers, 3 of which were a part of the ‘First-Gen Niners’ student organization, and their faculty advisor was the final keynote speaker. They shared similar sentiments about their trials and triumphs as first-generation students themselves. Followed by the speakers, all guests proceeded to the dessert reception where first-generation students could view a slideshow of themselves as well as complete degree dedications if they chose.

Degree dedications could have been written to anyone they wished to dedicate their degree to, including themselves. This gave an opportunity for students to express who they were doing this for and allow their supporters in on the joy. The energy in the room could only be described as Generational Pride & Niner pride combined. Alumni Engagement was present at the reception, with swag and ways the first-generation students could stay committed and engaged with Charlotte beyond their degree.

During the dessert reception, students took photos, completed degree dedications, created more community, and even danced a bit. It was a momentous occasion, filled with love, laughter, and light. Charlotte is grateful to have the opportunity to celebrate our first-generation Niners. While this may have been the first ‘First-Generation Graduation Celebration’, it will certainly not be the last. We plan to hold this celebration semesterly to continue honoring, affirming, and showcasing our first-generation students’ brilliance and accomplishments.

Students that registered for the event were asked to share advice they have for other first-generation students. A few quotes:

“This is your marathon, take your time and make the best of your journey. Being the first holds great weight but just know that you were made for this, remember pressure makes diamonds!”

“There is no limit set by anything that predetermines your destiny. You decide how far you go in life.”

“It doesn't matter how long it takes you to finish your degree. Go at your pace, get involved on campus, and make that time count. You'll get through it!”

and a personal favorite, “It's a long and difficult road but far from impossible. Knowing you've made not only yourself but your entire lineage proud is worth every harrowing step, try to enjoy yourself in the midst of it all.”

These are direct quotes from our now, alumni first-generation Niners, to current and future Niners that will be available for all first-generation students to see when they need a pick-me-up. We know our first-generation students are going to leave Charlotte and embark upon a journey that is brighter than ever. #GoNiners #IAmAFirstGenNiner

For more information on University of North Carolina at Charlotte's approach, please visit their website here.