I met Khadiga in Cairo, Egypt soon after President Trump was elected. The Administration’s travel ban of people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, along with the stifling patriarchy and political unrest in the region, prompted her mother to invite me to speak with her CEO group about education in the United States.
Khadiga struck me as deeply curious and fiercely independent. She was in eighth grade and desperately wanted to study in the US. We drew up a four-year plan that included getting a taste of US campuses; achieving leadership roles in the Model UN and student council, launching a green business; and raising funds for a heart foundation.
After three years of regular FaceTimes and WhatsApps, she suddenly stopped responding. I called her mom—COVID had swept through the family and her grandfather had been arrested for operating an independent newspaper.
One major pep-talk later, she rallied to nudge her grades back up and compose a moving essay that recounted her Arab Spring: From eight to 13, whenever I slept over outside of my house, my phone lost reception, or I heard fireworks, I would turn inside out and put my earbuds in.
One evening in early February, my phone lit up, and she delivered those three words we all love: “I got in!” Khadiga starts at Tufts University (MA) this fall; Trump sits sans Twitter, in Mar-a-Lago.
—Don McMillan, President, McMillan Education
One of our students whom we helped all through high school, now in her second year at a university (we’re still helping her!), is a first-generation student and her parents worked at the two factories in our county. The factory where her mother works closed—a huge loss for our community in terms of jobs and revenue.
Her mother came to see us last month to ask for help enrolling in college, which is a wonderful testament to the foundation influencing the culture of our community. We’ve had many high school grads come back after a few years and ask for help enrolling, but having a parent ask for help was truly eye-opening for me. To know she felt comfortable asking us for help and trusted us with the process is something I will never forget.
—Mary Lauren Garner, College Access Counselor, The Ayers Foundation
Recently, I was working with a pro bono student, Laura, and she was worried she didn’t have a compelling story to tell. Yet, this humble young woman was left alone for over six months during her junior year to care for her mentally ill and drug-addicted brother.
She had a near-perfect GPA, achieved stellar test scores, and was valedictorian of her high-achieving class. She managed to volunteer extensively as an EMT, hold down a job, manage a house, provide food, and keep her brother out of the hospital.
Laura ultimately earned a free ride to nearly every college she applied to and chose a seven-year BA/MD to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.
—Jill Madenberg, Independent Educational Consultant, Madenberg College Consulting LLC
I used to provide programming for the Boys & Girls Club of San Juan Capistrano in California after school. Student participation was voluntary, and the staff and I were working hard to convince teens that my college planning workshops and meetings were worthwhile. We were competing with pizza, pool tables, video games, and hangout time!
One particular day, the pizza ran out quickly. At least that’s what Sophia said when she suddenly appeared in my workshop about the different options teens can take after high school. She was a 10th grader, reluctant, quiet, and disengaged. I rattled off my usual statistics: “If you pursued just oneyear of any education or training after high school, you would make 80 percent more than those who enter the job force with only a high school diploma?” That’s when I got her!
I will always remember my first one-on-one meeting with Sophia. She came from a family where higher education wasn’t a priority. Getting through the day-to-day in a single-parent household meant Sophia had to care for siblings and do household chores while mom was working two jobs. No one spoke about college. Instead, high school graduation was the big milestone.
Sophia had a hard time even imagining she could pursue a college education. I slowed the pace of our conversations, realizing she needed time to review and process. She needed time to reflect, accept, and rebuild her purpose. We celebrated, we cried, and we let time be still for just a moment in her life. Then, college planning started to form. She said she enjoyed connecting with people. She became intrigued by the study of communication. I showed her course descriptions which evolved to a variety of professions. By the 10th meeting, she declared, “I want to be a speech pathologist!”
Together, we took it step by step. The pace was slow, but always moved forward. Each time she understood a path or a requirement, I saw her confidence increase. She was building clarity towards possibility. And that was enough to get her where she wanted to be.
—Sonja Montiel, College Admission Consultant, College Confidence Consulting
I am the post secondary counselor at Middlebury Union High School in Vermont, the hometown high school for Middlebury College. Our school serves a wide range of students, many first-generation, college-bound kids all the way to children of college professors. It is the honor of my life to work with these students!
I am a member of NACAC’s Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group and had to share this…
One of my students, Bethany, is now in her fourth year at Paul Smith’s College (NY). She is thriving there and all the while has remained true to her roots as the daughter of a noted dairy family here in Addison County. Her family has farmed their land for generations and she wrote her college essay about the first time she got to milk a cow, on her own, as a 10-year-old.
She’s been active in Future Farmers of America and held leadership roles in the program, too. She and I have kept in touch since she graduated and she’s returned to our school each year to promote Paul Smith’s to our students and has spoken eloquently about what it means to be a first-generation, college-bound student.
She has felt supported and inspired at Paul Smith’s and encouraged in her daily coursework. She loves college and feels she has learned a great deal and will be able to translate what she has learned and bring it back to help at her family’s farm to keep it sustainable in the years to come.
There’s a wonderful aside to this story. I tweeted about Bethany and Vermont’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Anson Tebbets, is a friend of mine. I tagged him on the tweet and he retweeted it. I told Bethany and she nearly died and went to heaven when she found out. She was so excited that she set up her own Twitter account and has decided to start tweeting about dairy and farming issues. And Anson is now following her!
—Sarah G. Soule, Post Secondary Planning Coordinator, Middlebury Union High School