As a first generation student, I felt vulnerable, and I didn’t want anyone to know it. So I didn’t ask for help, and I failed out of Syracuse University after a year and a half.
My next attempt was at Central Connecticut State University, where I was a walk on for the Division 1 Swim Team. I had learned to work harder, and I knew to ask for help, but the latter backfired on me.
There was one particular class that I struggled in, so I decided to ask the professor for help. His office hours conflicted with swim team practice, so I emailed requesting an alternate time. I recall that he mocked a typo in my email. I felt shamed. I stopped going to the class, and failed it. Soon after my eligibility expired; so I quit school again, convinced that it just was not for me.
Using Vulnerability to Succeed
A few years later, when I was 28, I was working as a nanny, and the family I worked for encouraged me to apply once again to college. With their support, and the benefit of my maturity, I approached Trinity College much differently. I worked hard. I asked for help. I stood up for myself. More importantly, I cultivated mentors at my College and among my peers.
As a result, I graduated with high honors, Phi Beta Kappa, and with five academic awards. A few months later, Trinity asked me to teach ENG 101, which I did as an adjunct for 10 years.
As a first generation student, I felt very vulnerable. By my third try, however, I felt I had nothing left to lose, so I was able to push through my fear and feeling of vulnerability to succeed. I have now come to recognize that vulnerability is a gift. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes:
“In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”
By the time I got to Trinity, I learned to lean in to my vulnerability. I learned to be seen, to take up space and to ask for help. Like every trailblazer, a first generation college student steps bravely into the unknown, hand-in-hand with vulnerability.