May 18, 2018, BY Beth Kaszuba

Members of the Bucknell community gather at a festive table.
Members of the Bucknell community recognized graduating first-gen students at the inaugural GenFirst! Commencement Celebration & Pinning. Photo by Reid Sanchez '18

Electrical engineering major Teweldeberhan Misghina '18 was a refugee, immigrant, overnight product stacker at a retail store and community college student before his path led him to Bucknell — where, at a celebration honoring graduating first-generation students, he served as an inspiration to members of the University community.

The inaugural GenFirst! Commencement Celebration & Pinning, held Sunday, April 29, in the Elaine Langone Center, brought together students, faculty, staff and local residents to recognize Bucknell seniors who are the first people in their immediate families to complete four years of college.

Teweldeberhan Misghina '18 describes his journey to Bucknell. Photo by Reid Sanchez '18

Speaking at the gathering, Misghina explained how in 2006 he left his native Eritrea and lived as a refugee in Ethiopia for more than five years. After immigrating to Philadelphia in 2012, he worked in retail and manufacturing before enrolling in community college. He came to Bucknell through the University's Community College Scholars Program, which helps outstanding students from partner community colleges pursue four-year degrees.

"Bucknell has all the resources and opportunities that a student like me could ever wish for," Misghina said. "Most importantly, the University has amazing professors."

However, as a student in his 30s with vastly different life experiences from his classmates, he noted that his social transition has been challenging.

"Every student has a story," Misghina added. "And yet, despite our different backgrounds, or perhaps because of our different stories, we have learned to respect and support one another."

Students Urged to Trust, Stay True to Themselves
Speaker Dylan Lopez '18, an education and sociology major, told a different tale of perseverance. Determined to secure a spot in an at-capacity Latin American history course, they showed up in the classroom every day until Carmen Henne-Ochoa, diversity, equity & inclusion fellow and director of GenFirst! at Bucknell, who taught the class, admitted them.

Lopez, who had struggled with their own transition to college, said the course served as a turning point. "I realized that I am the product of my ancestors. I am the product of my hard work. And I am resilient."

Encouraging other first-generation students to trust their abilities, Lopez added, "I believe in you, and I want you to believe in yourself. Know that you're going to do something great."

Representing first-gen students who will follow in the seniors' footsteps, Africana studies major Ty Smith '20 discussed his ongoing effort to be true to friends and family in his home city of Los Angeles while succeeding at Bucknell.

"I have two years left, and I would like to spend them convincing other students of the power they carry," he said, adding, "I will not forget about the person I was before Bucknell. I will not forget my brothers in the streets. For those of you who have more time at Bucknell, please join me on this proactive journey."

The event also included remarks by President John Bravman, who described his experiences as a first-gen student, and a ceremony in which more than 25 seniors received pins from sponsors who have supported them during their time at Bucknell.

Henne-Ochoa, who spearheaded the University's GenFirst! mentoring program, Storming the Museum event and Bison Connect retreat, also congratulated the first-gen seniors.

"Most college students have been brought up to believe that attaining a four-year degree is a given," she said. "Perhaps for you, instead of a given, it was a dream shared by you and your family. Today, we recognize that you have accomplished something that was not expected, but hoped for, with a sincere and substantial desire. Your path may not have been smooth or certain, but you forged it anyway, and we applaud you."