No longer first-gen: Mother, daughter graduate from college at the same time

Sabrina Pérez (C’24) and her mother recently reflected on their experiences attending college and earning their degrees at the same time—excerpts below. Sabrina, an English major in the College of Arts & Sciences, has served as the president of the Student Board for the Georgetown Scholars Program, an organization that provides wraparound support services for first-generation and low-income students.

When Sabrina Pérez (C’24) graduates from Georgetown this weekend, she’ll no longer be the first person in her family to graduate from college. Her mom did two weeks earlier. For the past four years, the mother and daughter have experienced college together, 14 hours apart. As Sabrina studied English on the Hilltop, her mother, Samara Pérez, took classes in social work at a university in Fort Myers, Florida. They’d check in on each other every day, sharing learnings and stories from class, swapping tips, and leaning on each other as they navigated college for the first time.  

“We really were first-gen students together and were able to help guide each other through this journey and talk through the classic college struggles,” Perez said. “I was like, I can’t say my mom doesn’t get it because truly my mom is getting it. She’s living it.”

Their hard work, late nights, and decades of preparation are paying off as they receive their degrees at the same time. “It makes me emotional,” Sabrina said. “Her biggest dream is to graduate from college.”Sabrina remembers her mother, who immigrated from Venezuela at age 18, always encouraging her to go to college. “Education is power,” she’d say.

Sabrina learned about Georgetown through an alumna her mother babysat and worked for. She was drawn to the school’s values, its curriculum and community, and financial aid package. When she was accepted with a full ride, it felt like a collective win for her whole family, she said.

“It was like all of our acceptance,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to go to college without all of the sacrifices and their hard work. So it was such a joyous time.”

As Sabrina began school, her mother enrolled full-time in Florida Gulf Coast University. She had been taking classes off and on for 20+ years, but COVID-19 and a job change motivated her to accelerate the goal she had had since arriving in the U.S. “I cannot be prouder of her,” Sabrina said. “It will always be the greatest gift in my life that I got to go through this time with her and see her accomplish her dream as I’m also accomplishing my dream of going to college.”

On the day of Samara’s graduation, the two sat down to discuss what it’s been like to go through college and graduate together. Asked how she was feeling, Samara answered, “I feel overwhelmed with happiness. I feel that I have completed a part of my life that I wanted to do for so long. Today I was thinking, sitting over there waiting for my name to be called, dreams don’t have expiration dates.”

Access the full story to hear Sabrina and Samara Pérez reflect on their journey as first-generation college students.

Topics in this story

Next Up

Social capital unlocks opportunities. Here’s how colleges can help Black students build it.

Social connections and networks can be highly beneficial when navigating college and pursuing career opportunities, but Black learners and workers tend to have less awareness of, and access to, professional social capital. A new framework outlines a vision for change.