By Elijah Shama SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) In every classroom there are students who are braving uncharted waters. They blend in, but they’re different. They’re the first of their families to sit in a lecture hall, pioneers carrying their parents’ dreams in their backpacks. They’re first generation college students, students who are the first of their family to attend college. Lorena Kanzki, a Sophomore at Syracuse University studying Women and Gender studies and Television, Radio, and Film, is one of those students.
Herbert Kanzki, Lorena’s father said Lorena was going to college no matter what it took.
“I remember one day I was talking to Lori and I told her, even if I have to take two jobs you’re going to college. She looked at me and said dad I got you,” said Herbert.
This is not a small group of students. A 2010 study by the U-S Department of Education finds almost 50 percent of college students’ parents have never attended college. And 30 percent of all incoming college freshman are expected to be the first of their family to attend. However, more than a quarter of first generation college students drop out before graduating, that number is four times higher than their 2nd generation counterparts.
Despite such daunting statistics Lorena finds motivation in being able to bring back what she’s learning and inadvertently teach her parents.
“I was sitting with my dad and I was talking and I said a word that he didn’t know and he asked me for the definition. I forget the word now but when I told him the definition he got so excited and he was saying “I like that! I’m gonna use that in my daily life” and so I feel like I’m also teaching them through receiving this education,” said Lorena.
However, Lorena often finds herself at a disadvantage compared to her peers whose parent have been to college. Little things like not knowing what “Matriculation” or “Cum Laude” meant have proven to be hurdles she’s had to navigate without the support of her parents. Further still, as a first generation student Lorena lacks many of the connections that other students parents might have when applying for internships.
Though Lorena has had to navigate Academia’s bureaucracy largely by herself, her parents still find ways to support her in whatever ways they can. For her father it means being whatever she needs him to be.
“I support her morally a lot. I’m like her best friend when she needs me to be. I’m like her boyfriend when she needs me to be. I’m like her Dad when she needs me to be. I’m like the bad boy that she needs me to be. I am everything for her,” said Herbert.
Lorena continues to study at Syracuse University, and come May 2019 she will be the first Kanzki to walk across a college stage and throw her graduation cap in the air