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My first-generation college experience: Emmanuel Vazquez

This week, EducationNC is spotlighting perspectives from those we are thankful for: our students and our educators. Follow along as we share the stories of first-generation college students and five educators at Catawba Valley Community College.

Hello first-generation college students,

My name is Emmanuel Vazquez and I currently attend UNC-Charlotte after transferring from Appalachian State University. I moved to Charlotte in 2011 and graduated from Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology in 2016. I was fortunate enough to attend superb institutions within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and receive an outstanding education. This does not mean that I did not face any challenges along the way, as many of us do.

Although I attended a high school that encouraged its students to pursue a college education, nothing was made for me. Nothing is made for you as well, and it is only up to you to put in the work to get into the college of your dreams. The biggest challenge I faced was the very nature of being a first-generation college student.

I had the vocal support of my family, friends, and teachers, but in many ways it still felt like a lonely journey. It was up to me to go through personal records for college applications, complete the FAFSA, request transcripts, and so much more. The challenge was that it was not given to me. No one was there to remind me to submit this or that. It is simply called initiative.

Going to college was preached to me since I entered the doors of my preschool class in Santa Ana, California. My parents and practically every teacher I had shaped my idea of pursuing higher education. When finally applying for college, I felt all sorts of emotions. The biggest one being fear.

Fear of not being accepted into the college of my dreams haunted me during the application process, and many of you will probably experience the same feeling. I decided to attend college in-state because it did not make sense to me to go out of state. The UNC System offered everything I wanted, including affordable tuition, stellar institutions, convenient proximity to home, and a variety of unique college cultures.

I was one of three Phillip O. Berry graduates to attend Appalachian State in the fall of 2016. It was on that traditional college move-in day after my family had dropped me off that reality quickly kicked in for me.

My first semester at App State was crucial in my journey as I really escaped from my comfort zone. I embarked on a social life that I was not forced into for the first time, crafted new ideas, and discovered more than ever about who I really am. It was nifty to bring my new developing perspective back home. The education I received from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools made the transition into college education almost natural. There was not a moment at App State where I felt I did not belong and that is thanks to the brilliant college preparation I received at Phillip O. Berry.

Everyone reading this lives in different circumstances and will walk their own path. Therefore, there is no secret that can make the process easier. But I will tell you to celebrate every acceptance letter and do not be embarrassed to let out your emotions if the college decision was not what you had hoped for. Life moves forward, and we can only live in the moment. Enjoy the process my fellow first-generation college students.

Yours truly,

Emmanuel Vazquez

Emmanuel Vazquez

Emmanuel Vazquez (Phillip O. Berry Academy 2016) is a junior studying Health Systems Management at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He aspires to become an analyst at a hospital to infuse his passion for medicine and data to impact lives and improve systems.