First Year, First-Generation: Introducing a new project


This is the first story in our First Year, First Generation series. You can listen to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6 by clicking on the links.

Today we introduce you to five students.

They’re all recent graduates of Delaware high schools. They’re all heading off to college. And they’re all planning to do something their parents never did: earn a bachelor’s degree.

They are first-generation college students, about to embark on what may be the most consequential four years of their lives. Earn a diploma and they will have essentially earned an economic passport into the middle class. But they will have to earn it.

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Just 11 percent of low income, first-generation college students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of enrolling in higher-ed. First-generation students who enroll in four year schools fare better, but still nearly three quarters fail to earn a bachelor’s on time.

In other words, the stakes are high–especially for an 18-year-old trying to navigate the transition to a new school and a new world.

Over the next year, all five students will keep audio diaries of their freshmen year experiences. They’ll be sharing a rare look into what it’s like to be a first-year, first-generation student. They’ll share triumphs and setbacks, joys and frustrations.

But before all that, some introductions.

Below is a little about each student, as well as a link to their first audio diary entries. In those entries, they describe themselves, why they’re attending college, and the worst piece of advice they ever received.

Read on to learn more.

Jada Smack

Jada Graduation Edit

Hometown: Millsboro, DE

Going to: Swarthmore College

Quick bio: (Listen to our audio bio at the top of the page!)

On growing up in a small town:

“I don’t really think I’m gonna be able to reach my full potential just staying in Millsboro. And there’s nothing wrong with Millsboro. But I don’t wanna be a farmer and I don’t wanna be a nurse. So I don’t really see how I can I like expand out to all the possibilities of my life. I don’t want to shelter myself and make myself confined to just this one area and not be able to do everything that’s possible for me to do–or at least give myself a chance to do it.”

On competing against other top students at an elite school:

“You kinda have to realize where you lack in strength in academics they lack in some other place where you’re stronger. So you kinda meet them in the middle at some point. I kinda just approach people in a different way than being intimidated. Because I’m sure there’s something I do that they’re very intimidated by that they’re just better at hiding.”

Hear Jada’s first audio diary.


Josee Lazarre

Josee Graduation EDIT

Hometown: Laurel, DE

Going to: Delaware Technical and Community College (through the University of Delaware’s Associate in Arts Program)

Quick bio: Josee immigrated to southern Delaware from Haiti when she was 12. Her parents both work in nearby factories. Despite knowing almost no English when she arrived six years ago, Josee finished 12th in her graduating class at Laurel High School. She’s studying to be a nurse and plans to spend two years at the local community college before finishing her degree at the University of Delaware.

On what she expected upon arriving in the United States:

“To tell you the truth, when I came here my mind was really clear. I had no idea what it was gonna be like–how the people were gonna be like. I didn’t even know English. I didn’t know anybody here. I was blank. I had nothing in mind. Nothing.”

On how her parents’ journey has inspired her:

“What would it mean to them to wake up every morning and sacrifice? They don’t want to, but they have to. And for me to do the same thing over again? It can’t happen.”

Hear Josee’s first audio diary.  


Sean Ryan

Sean Graduation EDIT

Hometown: Wilmington, DE

Going to: University of Delaware

Quick bio: Sean’s parents divorced when he was young and he’s lived mostly with his mom. He struggled during his 9th grade year at A.I. DuPont High School, both with his grades and with making new friends. He eventually adjusted and made the National Honor Society his senior year. Sean will attend the University of Delaware.

On his early struggles in high school:

“All those new people, I just didn’t like it. I’ve never been diagnosed with anything but I feel like I have a little bit of anxiety. Even when we were at [graduation] I started getting a little stomach ache and I was getting really hot. It felt like everything around me was closing in on me.”

On what he’s looking forward to about college:

“I can’t wait for a teacher to talk to you like another person and not basically like a child or a pet. They seriously don’t treat you like a person sometimes.”

Hear Sean’s first audio diary.


Jacki White

Jacki Graduation EDIT

Hometown: New Castle, DE

Going to: University of Delaware

Quick bio: (Listen to our audio bio at the top of the page!)

On why she loves Japanese art:

“The more you explore other cultures and try and understand and appreciate them, the more open your mind gets. So I feel like everybody should try to look to at least a few cultures and just educate themselves and just experience the world. There’s more than just what’s around you. I’m the type of person that’s not just worried about the Rite Aid up the street. I wanna know what’s way out there, even if I never see it.”

On what worries her about college:

“I’m worried I’m gonna get too caught up on being excited and being out and being able to discover and learn that I’m not gonna crack down on my studies. That’s why I’m trying to discipline myself now. I have everything organized. My syllabus is gonna be like my bible.”

Hear Jacki’s first audio diary. 


Cierra Jefferson

Cierra Graduation EDIT

Hometown: Seaford, DE

Going to: Wesley College

Quick bio: (Listen to our audio bio at the top of the page!)

On her dad, who works two jobs:

“My dad leaves five o’clock in the morning. Sometimes he probably won’t come until 12 or 11–late nights. So that’s barely any hours of sleep. And then he’ll try to spend time with us. Like he’ll wake us up out of our sleep to mess with us. I just see how much of a toll it takes on him. I mean just to have the things we have he goes above and beyond.”

On her younger brother, TJ:

“He looks up to me a lot. I wanna show him that you can keep going. You can do better. “

Hear Cierra’s first audio diary. 


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