Elon University celebrated the accomplishments of over 20 undergraduate and graduate first-generation students Tuesday evening during its First Gen Graduation Ceremony.

The students received first-generation graduation stoles, noting their journey as the first in their family to graduate higher education. 

The event was hosted by the university’s Center for Access and Success, which includes first generation student support services. 

Travella Free joined the university in July and serves as the executive director of the Center for Access and Success. She said as a first generation student herself, she loves being a mentor for these students and giving them a platform to celebrate their achievements. 

“I have students come to my office for various reasons and it's nice to help them to be an assistance to them,” Free said. “I think about my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Bridges, I think about that coach. Those people in my life that helped plant that seed, set that foundation, and I want to be that for the students who come to me. I want to be that positive person that's going to put them on the right track.”

Sarah T. Moore | Elon News Network

Elon senior Victoria Getter after receiving her first-generation graduation stole at the First Gen Graduation Celebration on Tuesday. 

Senior Victoria Getter said that for her, being a first-generation student is about more than just her college degree. 

“It means sharing this victory with my parents because I know they had to work twice as hard to get me here and just make sure I felt comfortable here,” Getter said. “I'm so proud of everyone here. I know they worked so hard for this, and I can't wait until we all get to walk across the stage for one final time and celebrate together.”

Sarah T. Moore | Elon News Network

Elon senior Amanda Bossert receiving her first-generation graduation stole from Dean of Students Jana Lynn Patterson at the First Gen Student Graduation Celebration.

Senior Amanda Bossert said she didn’t think too much about her first-generation status until finding Elon’s community of first-generation students, seeing how students were supported by staff and faculty and how first-generation students supported one another. Bossert said this led her to join the First Phoenix mentoring program and help younger first-generation students navigate their college experience.

“Spaces like this, having that one shared part of our identity, … it’s a cool way to meet people,” Bossert said.

Graduate student Darynha Gnep helped organize the event and serves as the graduate apprentice for first generation student support services. Gnep is a first-generation student himself and said Elon supports first-generation students in a more engaged and hands-on way than other university programs he has seen.

Gnep said it was important that the university not only supports, but celebrates first-generation students. He said often when the first-generation experience is being discussed, conversations surround “deficits” of first-generation students, but celebrations such as this one help reframe the narrative. 

“There's a lot of strength in that power and being able to say, ‘I navigated this, I did this.’ That self-efficacy is a part of it,” Gnep said. “It's a big part of that story, and then being able to proudly say that out into the world and be like, ‘I’m first gen. I graduated.’”