Campuses nationwide host First-Generation College Celebrations

Colleges from coast to coast participated in the third-annual National First-Generation College Celebration on November 8, hosting programs, distributing promotional gifts, and using the event to galvanize campus communities around student success.

The Council for Opportunity in Education and the Center for First-generation Student Success launched the First-Generation College Celebration in 2017, selecting November 8 to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965. The HEA, organizers note, sought to “level a playing field that for too long had been weighed against Americans from minority and low-income backgrounds.” Among its many provisions, the legislation created federal grants and loans, as well as programs to increase postsecondary access, retention, and completion.

‘Advancing an asset-based national narrative’

The Center for First-generation Student Success encourages colleges and universities to “get creative” in designing their first-gen celebrations and highlights individual institutions’ plans on its website. The goal, organizers say, is to “build relationships with colleagues, involve leadership…and join [the Center] in advancing an asset-based national narrative on first-generation student experiences and outcomes.” This year’s festivities ranged from speaker panels to workshops, networking events, social media campaigns, and beyond.

Georgetown University’s Georgetown Scholars Program (GSP) marked the day in preparation for #GSProud week, an initiative dedicated to celebrating first-generation and low-income students on the Hilltop and building allyship on campus. The celebration ran from November 11-15 and included activities such as a “GSPhamily” Dinner and a discussion about the stress culture in college and self-care.

Related: Georgetown receives national honor for commitment to first-generation student success >

‘We want those celebrations to begin a conversation’

Speaking with NPR, Sarah Whitley, the director of the Center for First-generation Student Success, said the National First-Generation College Celebrations are crucial in increasing awareness of systemic barriers in higher education and what’s needed to ensure all students can thrive and complete their degrees.

“We want those celebrations to begin a conversation,” Whitley said. “You get this door open and then, let’s actually resource these programs.”

To learn more about how the Georgetown Scholars Program helps create a more equitable experience for first-generation college students, please visit

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