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NMH Celebrates First-Generation College Graduates

Nov. 9, 2022 — NMH joined the national First-Generation College Celebration on Nov. 8 to recognize members of the school community who are the first in their family to go to college and share their stories about their road to college.

Faculty and staff members who self-identify as “First Gen” — the first person in their family to obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher — were recognized at an all-school meeting. The NMH College Counseling Office handed out stickers that say “I’m First Gen!” to adults and students. NMH featured the stories of first-gen faculty and staff members on its Instagram account. 

In addition, the latest episode of NMH’s podcast, “Head, Heart, and Hand: Stories of Professional Wayfinding from the NMH Alumni Community,” features two young NMH alums, Rai Wilson ’13 and Iiyannaa Graham-Siphanoum ’17, who share with NMH Director of Alumni Relations Stacie Hagenbaugh how others can be stronger allies to First-Gen community members. 

NMH Financial Aid Director Marvin Garcia’s journey to college began when his family immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua, giving him the opportunity to attend a college prep boarding school on scholarship. He went on to obtain his bachelor’s at SUNY Albany.

“My parents gave my brother and me the desire to educate ourselves and persevere,” Garcia said. “We were here to better ourselves. College would allow me to aspire to a better life and a successful future.”

Gretel Schatz, a dance teacher and chair of the NMH Performing Arts Department, credits a local community college with helping to launch her on her college path.

“On a whim in 12th grade, I visited Greenfield Community College,” she said. “The registrar's office helped me petition my school board to do a dual-enrollment program. I borrowed $824 from my great-grandmother to go to all my classes at GCC and get my high school diploma. After GCC, I auditioned and was accepted to the BFA dance program at UMass.”

The national First-Generation College Celebration is held each year on the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which emerged out of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty to help level the playing field for Americans from minority and low-income backgrounds. In addition to creating federal grants and loan programs to help students finance their educations, the legislation made key investments in institutions of higher education. It also created the Federal TRIO programs, which aim to increase postsecondary access, retention, and completion for low-income, first-generation college graduates.

NMH joined the national celebration to draw attention to the accomplishments of first-gen students, who must navigate a path without the roadmap that other students have, said College Counseling Director Joe Latimer (shown, right).

"The idea of celebrating our adults on campus who were first in their family to go to college is an important down payment on creating an inclusive and thoughtful environment that meets our diverse students where they are,” said Latimer, himself a first-gen college graduate. “I was so excited to see many of the First Gen stickers being taken by our students to wear proudly. I look forward to celebrating this important day every November.”

“Celebrating first-gen students acknowledges all the hard work that they have put in and removes the stigma,” said Karla Lazaro ’24 (shown, left). 

She’ll apply to colleges next year and expects to be the first in her family to go to college. 

“It’s important the we recognize the people in our community who are not only doing this for themselves but for their families as well,” she said.

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