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My first-generation college experience: Jeryn Lindsay

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.

I was brought up in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system. Faculty served as my mentors for the most part, and no matter where I attended school, there was always a strong faculty member that connected with me and motivated me to do more. However, there was also that one teacher that judged my background and thought they knew who I was or who I would become at each and every school I attended.

I faced the constant challenge of not knowing how to prepare for college because I did not have anyone in my family to guide me, whether it was preparing for the ACT/ SAT, completing college applications, applying for FAFSA, or even understanding how to find scholarships. There was a constant issue of lacking enough faculty as well, especially when we needed them most during testing.

During my high school years, I also faced the issue of transportation. I was struggling to get to my school where I could receive guidance on how to combat those challenges or even receive the chance to obtain an education. I chose to attend Phillip O. Berry Academy of Technology (POB) for high school because of my interest in the field of technology. In order to attend, I had to walk 1.2 miles to and from school while passing my home school, Harding, on a daily basis.  

I was not offered bus transportation from where I lived because my high school was a magnet school. My drive and aspiration to complete my education at POB was all centered around my desire to further my education at an institution of higher learning in IT. I knew in the end that my self discipline and determination would pay off in the long run, and still until this day it was completely worth it.

During my high school years I was involved in and contributed to more than six extracurricular activities and an internship. Some of the clubs or programs that I was a part of were Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), National Honors Society (NHS), Marching Cardinal Dancer, Cardinal Ambassador, Communities In Schools, Mayor’s Youth Employment Program (MYEP), and the SAS Stats Internship. Even though my schedule was hectic at times, I continued to maintain an unweighted GPA at a 3.2 and above in honors and AP courses. Every last one of these extracurricular activities connected and helped direct my views towards college. They all demanded leadership, scholarship, dedication, constant growth, and adaptability — which amplified my desire to go to college.

Not attending college was never an option in my mother’s household. She always instilled in us that education is the key and college is the gate for getting where you are trying to be in life. It grew to be my aspiration once I reached a point in life where I realized that everyone for the most part in my family was struggling, and the one thing that could have helped was receiving a higher education. This was a constant generational cycle I needed to break.

The majority of my family was filled with pride and joy at the thought of me receiving the opportunity to further my education. I definitely had a couple of moments filled with discouragement and fear but also much optimism. I doubted that I would be considered as a great applicant for scholarships or even as a prospective student into certain universities. I feared rejection letters or test scores telling me that I was not smart enough to be at certain universities all based on two tests. I feared that I would have made it so far just to not be able to start my collegiate experience because I did not have enough money to attend, let alone apply, for a university.

Even though I did not have strong guidance from people in my family, I had immense support from my close family and faculty. I also took classes like AVID and was apart of Community in Schools (CIS), which was helpful during my application process. Originally, my dream school and first choice was out-of-state, but I put that desire on hold because of the drastic increase in tuition. I was faced with the decision of going to my dream university and living with a bunch of debt or going to a state university and living with minimal debt.

For the sake of my mom’s sanity, I choose a state university. I did not want her constantly stressing about how much I would be struggling to maintain and balance school. The biggest challenge of the application process was knowing where to even start. As I mentioned earlier, I had no one in my immediate life to demonstrate or tell me how to go about applying for college. I was blessed with role models and faculty that helped me every step of the way. People like Ana Cunningham were there directing me and provided me with tools to apply effectively and proactively to stay on the right track.

My initial reaction to finally being on campus was complete shock. I was shocked that I finally made it there and shocked by how much more I had to do to even establish myself. I was torn between the rush that I finally made it and the feeling of being lost about what was next. In the beginning, I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders because I felt it was not just all on me for making it, but also all on me to prove that I can make it and finish. For a minute, I dealt with the pressure of appearing like a product of my environment instead of an example that anything can be done.

Campus finally felt like home once I got comfortable enough to register where everything was and broke out of my shell of staying in my dorm. My first semester was harsh because of a lot of adversities occurred. One of them came from me not being academically prepared. At the last two-week mark of my English class, I went from having a B in the class to an F because I failed to use a quotation correctly in my final essay. Two sentences in my entire eight page paper were seen as breaking the academic integrity policy. I had never received an F for anything in my life — not even a grade lower than a C+ for a course — so that was devastating for me.

I tried appealing the grade and took it to the Dean of Students, but only got it demoted to a temporary F. This meant I had to retake the course to get it taken off of my transcript and fix my GPA. The F took my GPA all the way down to a 2.37. This made me wish that more curriculum was taught in high school on avoiding plagiarism and how to balance your school work efficiently.

North Carolina public school prepared me for the social aspect of college, but I feel that more needs to be done in the realm of academically challenging students to prepare for success in college.

My first time coming home was emotional. I did not think I would miss my family and old environment so much. But I felt confident in myself as a college student by the second semester. I went through so many adversities in the first semester that when I got back the following semester, I told myself that I was taking no more losses.

I ended up making all As and one B which led placed me on Dean’s list. I have not seen a semester as bad as my first semester of college since then. For students in similar circumstances to my own, more mentorship and college preparation opportunities would be beneficial.

Jeryn Lindsay

Jeryn Lindsay (Phillip O. Berry Academy 2016) is a junior studying Information Systems and Supply Chain Management at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She aspires to become a data analyst to impact change and create efficient systems.