On Wednesday afternoon, the Ladd House living room was abuzz in celebration of National First Generation College Celebration Day: The room was filled and refilled with students coming in waves after classes, grabbing fresh popcorn with friends and taking Polaroids.
November 8 is National First-Generation College Celebration Day following a bipartisan resolution introduced in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, but THRIVE didn’t stop at one day of recognition. Students collaborated with Assistant Director of THRIVE Mar Calcara to extend the celebration over the whole week.
A kickoff dinner on Monday was followed by a heavily-attended LinkedIn headshots session on Tuesday, a National First-Gen Day Celebration on Wednesday and a trivia night in collaboration with the Questbridge Scholars Network yesterday.
Today, the First Gen and Flourishing event will send off attendees with succulents accompanied by encouraging notes from alumni. Student director Jimena Molina ’25 said that the name of the event is significant because it pushes back against limiting stereotypes.
“I think a lot of the time first-gen can have a negative connotation. A lot of people assume that first-gens are always struggling,” Molina said. “So we’re switching the narrative.”
In addition to the increased exposure and potential to attend programming that a longer time provides, Molina explained that first-generation students often struggle with the stigma surrounding taking up space and expanding the celebrations to a week creates an opportunity for them to take up said space. Ultimately, the main purpose of the week was to create community. She hopes that these events can spark recognition of shared experiences and connect people with similar backgrounds and life experiences.
“That’s not something you ask someone when you meet them, like, ‘Are you first gen?’ Right? No, that’s an invisible marker that people don’t know unless they know you very well,” Molina said.
Amy Cai ’25 attended the celebration on Wednesday and reflected on its relevance to the broader campus community.
“As [with] a lot of minority identities, it’s really important to just acknowledge people,” Cai said. “And I think celebrating them even in this small way is really meaningful, feeling seen.”
Of the Class of 2027, 27 percent are the first in their family to pursue a four-year degree, which is reflective of what Calcara predicts will be a general upward trend as THRIVE programs grow their cohorts.
Beyond this week, Molina hopes to see the continuation of a broader conversation about supporting first-generation students, both inside and outside of THRIVE. She explained that student awareness of the unique first-gen challenges and experiences has the capacity to create more inclusive spaces. This includes reminding leaders in any capacity—whether student groups or department heads—of their crucial role in creating these spaces.
“[I want to make sure that we are] creating an atmosphere that people feel safe coming to if they don’t have the same backgrounds as you, and just making sure that we don’t create these elite spaces that people will feel uncomfortable to walk into,” Molina said.
In his first year working at the College, Director of THRIVE Anthony Parker-Gills draws on his own experiences as a first-generation student. He wants to make sure THRIVE students are set up for success after their time at Bowdoin.
“The reason why I love doing this work is because growing up first-gen, coming from a limited income background in Chicago, I was hearing, ‘Go to school, get good grades and the jobs just come in,’” Parker-Gills said. “But that’s not necessarily the case. You have to do a lot of other different things beyond doing well in the classroom.”
Parker-Gills looks forward to continuing and expanding partnerships with campus resources, from Career Exploration and Development (CXD) to Student Wellness. He also noted that there are many programs under the THRIVE umbrella, including Geoffrey Canada Scholars and Bowdoin Science Scholars, which is on hiatus for the 2022-2023 year. With regards to each program, he envisions building a sense of community among the members in a smaller, more comfortable setting to continue weaving the social fabric that THRIVE has developed.
A “holistic development” approach drives the department in its every effort, according to Parker-Gills who wants to make sure that first-generation students are well in all regards, learning from the rough patches of his own journey.
“They can opt out and don’t necessarily have to go through some of the things that I had to go through. They can really just take off,” Parker-Gills said.
The group sees a bright future for the effort to support limited-income and first-generation students.
“THRIVE is growing and we are here to stay,” Calcara said.