Join the First Scholars Network!
Become a Network Member to transform your institution for first-gen student success.
First Scholars Network Member logo

Visibility, Affirmation, and Community: Expanding Our First-Generation College Celebrations

Danielle Gioia, Alverno College / The Center / November 30, 2023

Alverno College students and staff

First-generation students comprise the majority of Alverno College undergraduates. 70% of the incoming Fall 2022 undergraduates and 66% of the incoming Fall 2023 graduates are first-generation college students, with a total undergraduate first-generation population closer to 74%. First-generation students are not only the majority, but the heart of our undergraduate community. The November 8th First-Generation College Celebration has become an essential opportunity to recognize and affirm this richly diverse first-generation community.

The Office of Student Engagement and Leadership, the Advising Office, and the Department of Student Success have taken the lead on expanding the institution’s activities around November 8th’s National First-Generation College Celebration Day. For the past few years, Student Engagement and Leadership has hosted a lunch session with art and craft supplies for students to create posters that represent what it means to be first-generation college students, which are then featured in the central campus Commons.

The Promise Scholar Advising Program, which pairs first-generation undergraduate students with dedicated advisors, also hosts lunch celebrations in honor of November 8th. Additionally, they spotlight student testimonials about their experiences, strengths, and goals as first-generation college students. This year, Promise Scholars created 1-page statements that were featured on the “main street” windows of the Advising Office. First-generation undergraduates across all years have noted that this kind of visibility inspires them and makes them feel seen.

Last Fall, Student Success launched the institution’s first formal November 8th evening celebration, a festive dessert reception for all first-generation students that featured first-generation faculty speakers and certificates of first-generation recognition for the first-generation undergraduate Class of December ‘22. All first-generation faculty and staff in attendance were invited to form a reception line to cheer on the graduates as they exited the event stage with their certificates. It was a fun, affirming, and celebratory conclusion to a moving recognition of our first-generation college graduates.

First-gen graduates at Alverno College
Post-event survey responses and anecdotal comments indicated that students found this event, and especially its graduation recognition, strongly affirming. They also expressed interest in future events, activities, and recognition opportunities. In response, Alverno has expanded its celebration of first-generation graduates to a formal cording ceremony, in which graduates are bestowed with specially designed graduation cords that they will later wear at Commencement. The cords are light blue and green: blue represents being first – first in one’s family, along with all the “firsts” students accomplish throughout their college journey – while green represents student growth and new beginnings, from their first days in college through their graduation and paths forward as first-generation Alverno alumnae.

The inaugural first-generation undergraduate cording ceremony was held in May 2023, and this November’s cording ceremony was held as a part of Alverno’s new week-long observance of the First-Generation College Celebration. Families, friends, and mentors are welcomed as guests. This November, English to Spanish translation services were added to create a more inclusive experience for Spanish-speaking guests. Due to enthusiastic participation and post-event survey responses, these first-generation cording ceremonies will become a permanent feature on the College calendar every November and May.

For more information on Alverno College's approach, please visit their website here.