First-Gen Day


First Gen Button

Being a first-gen student means that your parent(s) did not complete a 4-year college or university degree, regardless of other family member’s level of education. November 8 was selected as the date for the annual National First-Generation College Celebration to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Learn more about UF first-generation programs and resources at https://firstgeneration.ufsa.ufl.edu

Student Financial Aid and Scholarships is proud to support first generation students. We recognize and support our first-gen students and graduates today and every day! 

“At the age of seven, I left behind friends, family, and the only home I had known, Cuba. I immigrated to Florida and as the only Spanish speaker in a second-grade classroom, I found myself surrounded by individuals who shared a sea of differences. From a young age, I witnessed my grandmother run a tailoring business, and my grandfather work in a sugarcane plantation. Later, I watched my father nourish his dreams in the nation he called, “the land of opportunity.” My family has motivated, and instilled confidence and determination to pursue my dreams. While I had their support, they were limited in navigating the unknown admissions, enrollment, and financial aid process. Attending college and pursuing a Graduate Program was something unimaginable. As a proud First-Generation Student and soon to be Double Gator, I am grateful for others who paved the way for future generations.

Being a First-Generation student means more than doing something you have never seen anyone do in your family. You inspire resilience and confidence in your abilities while being humble in your accomplishments. The best advice I can give to any First-Generation student is “never stop dreaming.” Connect with other First-Generation students, find a mentor, and ask for help. You are not alone; we are here to support you every step of the way.”

— Susana Morales 
SFA Financial Aid Coordinator III, College of Medicine

Sierra photo


“Follow your heart, and pay attention to your passions. Embrace who you are, what you love and turn it into your future. Make your dreams and desires a reality!”

—Sierra Graham
SFA Student Assistant

Read Generation Tips from UF first-gen student and SFA student assistant Sierra Graham.


Kassy Perez

I am a first generation college graduate from an immigrant family. My mom and I moved to the U.S. when I was 10-years-old and we did not speak any English nor know the culture. My mom was a teacher in Cuba, and though she was not able to practice her profession here, she has always valued education above all else. I knew since I was 10 that I was going to attend college, but I had no idea how I was going to do it. Because of the language barrier and other challenges I was not able to get help from my family with the college application or enrollment process. I applied for application fee waivers and applied to as many schools as I could. When I chose UF, I was committed to making it work, but it was very difficult to navigate on my own.

During my second semester at UF, I got a job as a Federal Work Study student assistant in the financial aid office. Working at SFA taught me about financial aid applications, budgets, campus partners, and so much more. This was not information that I had gotten before or that I even knew how to get. Now I know that there are many resources on campus to help students like myself. My advice to other first-gen students is to take advantage of those resources. There are people on campus whose job it is to support student success, but sometimes the students who need it the most are the ones who do not know about it.

I am now pursuing a master’s degree and will be the first person in my family to earn a graduate degree. I am honored to be in the first-gen club and I am so proud of all the new students who will share this accomplishment with us!

— Kassy Perez
Student Financial Aid and Scholarships Coordinator II

Photo of Vernon Wright

“I am a proud first-generation student! My parents immigrated from Jamaica for better opportunities and taught their children that who you are should not be hidden but worn with pride.

As a first-gen student, it is an honor to set the foundation for the generation to come in my family and community.”

— Vernon Wright
SFA Assistant Director


Photo of Marlene Jones


“My parents advocated to my sibling and I to obtain a college degree so we would have better opportunities in life. I realized their dreams and mine by becoming a first-generation college graduate. My brother followed suit with his dual degrees, and my daughter became a second-generation college graduate.”

— Marlene Jones,
A.A., B.A., MSHE


Photo of Chas Hammond“One of the most defining moments of my life was walking across the stage at my college graduation. As a first-generation college student from a low-income family, higher education had always seemed unattainable for me. Navigating the admissions process and completing complex financial aid applications was intimidating. Fortunately, the staff members at my college were kind, welcoming, and took a genuine interest in helping me make it to my first day of classes. 

Without their support, I may not have made it to that first day of classes, and I know I wouldn’t have made it to graduation. I am now pursuing a M.Ed. here at UF and have the privilege of supporting first-generation Gators as an employee of the university. If I could offer you any advice, it would be to never be afraid to ask for help when you need it. We are here for you every step of the way, and we are so proud of your achievements! Go Gators!”

            — Chas Hammond,
Student Financial Aid and Scholarships Coordinator III

“The extent to which generational knowledge and support are impactful factors to success is very understated. They have a cachet all their own and can be silent signifiers that make college life a bit easier to navigate. Over my years at UF, I’ve met so many first-generation to college students who have shown me numerous instances of determination and drive for success without the benefit of that form of generational wealth. Their ability to adapt so quickly to college life and policy is so commendable. I truly respect how resourceful they have been at striving for answers, learning how to be their own advocates, finding whole new communities on campus to be a part, and even asking for assistance when it is needed and discovering where that assistance is even located.”

— P. Micheal Wood
SFA Financial Aid Coordinator II

Victoria Motley

“I was a first generation college student.  I did dual enrollment through high school to get as much college done for free as I could.  If I didn’t get into a local college or if I didn’t get financial aid, I was not going to be able to go to college.  Everything from choosing a major to applying to schools and applying for financial aid was a new challenge.  Luckily, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and I knew what school I wanted to go to – although what I wanted to do changed while I was in college!  My highest personal achievement so far in life is completing my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida.  College doesn’t guarantee a stress-free life, but I do have more opportunities with my college degree.  I struggled while in school and after graduating, but learning how to navigate college life has given me the confidence to jump into any new experience and learn as I go.  My favorite part of working with Student Financial Affairs is being able to talk with students and their families about their financial aid and being able to help them understand their financial aid options so they have an easier time than I did.”

—Victoria Motley
Student Financial Aid and Scholarships Financial Aid, Coordinator I in Scholarships 

Victoria’s Tips for First-Gen students:

  • Look up websites for information!!!!  Websites are usually available anytime so you don’t have to worry about being able to make a phone call or go to office hours to ask questions.
  • If you do have to go to an office, go when they first open! Wait times are usually  a LOT shorter earlier in the day.

Jen Towers photo“I immigrated to Florida from the Philippines as a baby.  My mother never finished high school and my father has taken a few college courses but never completed a degree. Navigating to and through college was work. While my family helped where they could, they weren’t able to let me know what to anticipate with school. They weren’t able to call in on my behalf when I experienced issues with enrollment, charges, or financial aid. These are the unknown tasks First-Gens have to figure out, more so than their counterparts.

It can be taxing work, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Seek out help when you need it. Do you need assistance with your financial aid?  Come see us!

I am a proud first generation student and I am proud to work in an office that is eager to help first generation students navigate through their college experience.”

—Jennifer Towers
Student Financial Aid and Scholarships Assistant Director

Kimberly Staton




“Not having an example to follow made me strive to be an example for first generation students that came after me.”

—Kimberly Staton
UF OneStop


FWS Student
“I have met many First Generation students during my time at UF and truly admire the strength and determination that they show everyday. I’m happy to support my friends that are first generation students and am proud to attend a school where being a first generation student is celebrated!”

—Rhonda Hulzebos
UF SFA Student Assistant


Trellis Dad PhotoA tenured professor at one of Florida’s top institutions, Sr. VP of a management consulting firm, and a valued board member of several civic, social and educational organizations.  He is the son of parents who were never formally educated; a housekeeper and orange grove worker.  They could not read nor write, but supported and encouraged their sons to get their educations.  One son went on to play cello in the famed New York Symphony and the other earned a PhD in Public Administration and though he is known as “Doc” in most circles; in mine I just call him Daddy; a first generation college student; who couldn’t afford housing so he “Wildcated” living in the dorms with friends and a cute girl, whom I call Mom, was a work study student in the business office, was able to somehow secure a “free” meal plan for him so he could eat.  He is now the father and grandfather of second and third generation college graduates! Gen 4 is being groomed as we speak.

—Trellis N. Williams, MS

Sharon Photo

I am a first generation college graduate and a granddaughter of Ellis Island immigrants. My grandparents came to America from Italy to find a better life. My father was one of six children and was the only person in his family to receive a high school diploma. My mother’s family had eight children and all dropped out of high school to get jobs to help their family make ends meet.

My parents valued and emphasized a college education, but I grew up knowing that was not something my family could afford. When I got to college, I was more anxious about money than grades. Grants, scholarships and loans helped me get my degree.

Today I work at the university where I earned my bachelor’s more than 30 years ago. I am honored to work alongside dedicated financial aid professionals who help first-generation students every day.

—Sharon LaFragola Eyman
Student Financial Aid and Scholarships Assistant Director

Kimberly photo

I only applied to one university. It was all my parents, who knew nothing of admission application fee waivers, could afford to spend. The essay portion of my application was spent talking about how I, against all odds, would find a way to complete my academic studies at the University of Florida. In hindsight, perseverance was the key to my academic success. With every new disappointing grade or financial setback I found myself asking, “How can I overcome this hurdle?” Can, of course, being operative word. It never occurred to me that I would face an obstacle that I could not overcome by myself. Time taught me, however, that perseverance is not a lonesome endeavor. My friends, family, professors, and staff all provided me with the support, resources, and knowledge I needed to persevere. The best advice I think I can give to any first-generation college student is to connect with those around you and build a network. You are, if anything, not alone.

Kimberly J. Schmitt

Tina Lamb photoI am not a first-generation college student.

My mom was.  She grew up in a military family, moving from base to base and, at a very early age, had many responsibilities around the house.  At age seven, she was expected to prepare her own meals when she got home from school, along with doing her share of chores around the house.  When she wanted to go to college, her father only allowed her to go on the conditions that she live at home and continue to fulfill her duties around the home.  So, she woke up very early each day, tended to their livestock and then drove two hours to her classes; at the end of the day, she made that two-hour drive back home, prepared dinner for the family, and finished her chores on the farm.  She was not able to take part in the college experience by being involved in organizations or study groups, and had very little time each night to complete her assignments.  Somehow, managing all that, she finished her degree.

Because my mother was my primary caregiver—my parents divorced when I was 3 years old—she was always underemployed.  She stayed in a job that was low-paying, but had stability and flexibility to take time off for me, so that I could have the experiences she missed out on in her own childhood.  I had every opportunity she could provide—ballet, Girl Scouts, riding lessons, and later on, sports and high-school clubs.  When I told her I wanted to major in Classical Studies—news many parents would not be happy to receive—she was simply proud of me and glad I could pursue something I loved.  Looking back, I can now fully appreciate how much she must have struggled with managing her schedule to take me to all those activities and how she went without so that I could have the uniforms, participation fees, and lessons that my peers had.

This morning, I gave her a copy of my dissertation.  She read the simple dedication in it, “To my mother”, and starting crying.  She said, “I am so proud.  I just always wanted you to have so much more than I did.”

I am not a first-generation college student.  But today, I realized the dreams of one.

—Tina Lamb
Student Financial Aid and Scholarships Director

Have a first-gen story to share? Please send first-generation stories, successes, or tips to the SFA webmaster.