First-Gen Graduates Honored in Special Send-Off

Bianca Teixeira and Priya Parikh, the current president and vice president of the student organization First Ospreys, pose for a selfie with Lillian Nickens, one of the club's co-founders, during a send-off for first-generation students on Thursday, April 18.

Galloway, N.J. – Nearly half of Stockton University students identify as first-generation students.

This population of students – whose parents or immediate family members don’t currently hold a four-year college/university degree – faces a unique set of challenges when applying for and pursuing their own degrees.

In acknowledgment of these hurdles and the strength it took to be able to complete their university journey, graduating first-generation students were honored with gifts, dinner and more in a send-off celebration on Thursday, April 18, in the Multicultural Center.

The send-off was an opportunity for students to reflect on their achievements before walking across the stage in May. Before the program began, students reminisced on their favorite on-campus memories, which included completing the Educational Opportunity Fund Summer Academy, creating new student clubs like the Mexican Student Association and First Ospreys, and attending the Deeper SPACES retreat.

For students Jared Handelman and Bianca Teixeira, one of those achievements included attending 2024’s First Generation Student Career Leadership Experience in Miami. The two-day conference had a profound impact on how they viewed their identities as first-generation students and demonstrated how much power they have on campus as student leaders.  

“The conference was amazing, and I appreciated the opportunity – I learned a lot of new and valuable things that will help me set forth to future endeavors, especially in terms of leadership, networking and building your brand,” Handelman said.  

“This conference really pushed us to think about everything that we’re consuming, how it will benefit both us and others and how we will make the most of this experience for the Stockton community,” Teixeira said. Although we are seniors and we’re graduating, that doesn't mean that we can’t have an impact on the first-years and future generations of First Ospreys.”

Ian Bouie, director of Academic Achievement Programs and advisor for the student organization First Ospreys, shared key tenets for the graduating students to remember, emphasizing the fact that growing doesn’t stop after graduation.

“First, believe in yourself because you are capable, talented and worthy of success. You all deserve this moment,” Bouie said. “Embrace challenges, as each one is an opportunity for you to grow and become a better person. Find a mentor, and don’t be intimidated about seeking guidance and mentorship, no matter how lofty their position is because they may be willing to talk to you if you give them a chance to.”

As the students prepare to transition from first-generation students to first-generation graduates, Bouie is confident that they will become leaders in their job fields and communities.

“Go forth with a lot of confidence, pursue your passions, don’t be afraid and keep making Stockton proud,” Bouie said.

First to Soar Event Celebrates First-Generation Day

November 8, 2023 

Michael Spence's keynote presentation was both interactive and motivational during Nov. 7's First to Soar Celebration.
Michael Spence's keynote presentation was both interactive and motivational during Nov. 7's First to Soar Celebration.

Galloway, N.J. – There are three things that students should be focused on during their higher education journey – themselves, their circle and the finish line waiting for them once they earn their degree – according to Michael Spence, first-generation college graduate and keynote speaker at the First to Soar Celebration on Nov. 7

“For all of us in here, we're going down the path that no one in our family has ever gone down, and sometimes, it's probably one of the hardest things to go through,” Spence told the audience of first-generation students at Stockton. “See, it's easy to walk in someone else's footprints, but how about walking footprints that were never laid out for you? How do I make this journey that I got sent out to do and that I wanted people before me to do? I’m here to tell you that that pressure could either burst pipes or turn into diamonds, but it’s all about what you’re made of. I’m here to tell you that this journey here is not here to burst your pipes but to help make you a diamond.”

Spence, an Essex County native who graduated from Montclair State University and Liberty University, shared his journey with attendees, including stories sitting in the principal’s office with his mother, which led to him taking high school more seriously, to the first time he held his eldest son in his arms and promising him that he would make it his mission to always be there for him despite being “a kid himself.” He accomplished that mission, as evidenced by that same son telling him years later that he wanted to graduate college just like he did.

Celebrate First-Generation Students with #StocktonVoices 

– Story by Loukaia Taylor

– Photos by Lizzie Nealis