Finding a home as a first-generation student
Written by Jasmin Severino Hernandez (AB ’13, AB ’13), UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council Vice President
I am a first-generation college graduate, born to immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic. Growing up, my family did not have a lot of resources. I grew up in a very low-income household and there were times when my parents would have to decide whether they were going to skip a meal in order to provide for my brother and myself. Growing up as a first generation American, I did not have a family member who could provide me with guidance as to the process of choosing a university or how to pay for college. I was constantly hearing statistics from others regarding the Latino dropout rate and it felt like I was always pressured to do more and be more to succeed and not be another number.
I transferred to the University of Georgia in 2010, with no idea how the transition would work. I transferred from a small liberal arts college, where I felt like I was a big fish in a little pond. At UGA, I felt quite the opposite. I felt like the world was my oyster, but I also felt lost in the sea of people. As a first-generation student, it felt lonely because I was immersed in a new experience with no idea how to navigate it all. I graduated from UGA in 2013, with a degree in political science from SPIA & another in Spanish from Franklin.
I have amazing memories from UGA.
The first was when my roommate convinced me that pageants could teach me how to be confident in myself. With her help, I competed in various pageants throughout undergrad. My greatest memories are from competing in Miss UGA in 2012 and 2013. I was a runner-up in the 2013 competition and it is a moment I will never forget. My mic went out during my talent routine and the audience only heard the last 30 seconds of my song … ironically where I had to sing the highest note. I received a standing ovation before the judges made me do it all over again!
“Some of our greatest memories involve our similar journeys as first-generation students trying to find a home, a voice, and ourselves in a new and unfamiliar place.”
In 2013, I also found my home away from home. I became a sister of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Incorporated, which is an academic sorority. The Delta Alpha Chapter of LTA helped me grow into the professional I am today. The sisters embraced me at a time when I needed support. They taught me the value of hard work and inspired me to always believe in myself and to embrace life’s unexpected twists and turns. I am still very involved with my sorority and I enjoy seeing how our sorority changes the lives of other first-generation Latinas at universities across the country.
Lastly, UGA introduced me to the love of my life. While at UGA, I met a boy who I am lucky enough to now call my husband. For an entire semester, we would casually run into each other on North Campus. One day, we finally spoke, and the rest is history. We took our engagement photos on North Campus, as a sweet nod to the place that sealed our fate. We were married on homecoming day this year, October 19, 2019, and we still enjoy calling the Dawgs on Saturdays. Some of our greatest memories involve UGA and our similar journeys as first-generation students trying to find a home, a voice, and ourselves in a new and unfamiliar place.
Today, I serve as the Vice President for the UGA Young Alumni Leadership Council and I was chosen for the 2020 Class of UGA’s 40 under 40. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this honor and to be listed alongside some of the smartest, brightest and most innovative of our alumni. Although my time at UGA was challenging in many ways, it also helped me grow immensely. I strive and continue to give back to both the University of Georgia and younger bulldog generations because I truly believe that when you have the opportunity to make it where you want to be in your journey, it is your responsibility to hold the door open for those that come after you. It really is my hope that other students read or hear my story and feel encouraged to push forward and to extend a helping hand whenever they can to those around them.
Somewhere along the way, UGA gave me everything I needed. Somewhere along the way, I found a home.