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Unique Ceremony Celebrates First-Generation Students

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Student Andrea Thomas receives a pin from her family member in recognition of her success as a first-generation student.
2019 graduate Andrea Thomas receives a pin in recognition of her successes as a first-generation college student.

For the first time, Fontbonne University hosted a unique celebration on campus this May: the First-Generation Student Graduation Ceremony. The event celebrated students who are the first in their families to attend college and graduate with a diploma, and it acknowledged the support they received from their families to make that success possible. Sixteen students attended, along with their guests. Many brought parents and siblings; others brought supporters and cheerleaders.

A recent Wall Street Journal article acknowledges that while much of what is studied and written about first-generation students focuses on their challenges and struggles, what is often lost in that conversation are the many assets they bring to university communities. A ceremony like the First-Generation Graduation Ceremony reminds both the community and the students themselves of their value.

The ceremony included remarks by President J. Michael Pressimone, a first-generation student himself, as well as by graduating dietetics student Selena Saulsbery. Christine Keller, director of career development, served as guest speaker. Each attending student received a special 1G pin, symbolizing their accomplishments.

“One of the best parts of the event was having the students’ guests pin them with the special emblem,” said Sadie Weiss, academic affairs programs coordinator. “We really wanted families to be involved in the ceremony to recognize all of the support they have given to our students over the years.”

Because first-generation students don’t have generational knowledge about college, its processes and procedures, their success rates are often far lower than those of other students. Fontbonne aims to counteract this trend with its 1G Collective program. Now in its third year, the program provides support for first-generation college students, pairing them with mentors around campus. And, with events like the First-Generation Student Graduation Ceremony, the university is celebrating them too.

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