Celebrating First-Generation Students

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Events are planned for the National First-Generation College Celebration on Nov. 8. 

First-generation students at Riverview Farm.
First-generation students from six countries and four class years enjoy an apple-picking excursion to Riverview Farm in Plainfield, N.H., last month. (Photo by Jay Davis ’90)

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Dartmouth will observe National First-Generation College Celebration Day—a recognition of students, alumni, faculty, and staff who are the first members of their families to attend college—with a variety of activities around campus and online.

In a letter to first-generation students, President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 and Dartmouth’s senior leadership team describe the day as an “opportunity to celebrate you and everything you bring to our Dartmouth community.”

“The determination you’ve shown in becoming the first in your family to attend college was likely not an easy path,” the letter says. “Your experiences and perspectives have not only shaped the incredible person you’ve become, but are contributing to the personal, intellectual, and professional growth of everyone around you.”

Activities on Tuesday will include “I’m First” rock-painting at the First Generation Office; cupcakes at Collis and the First Generation Office; hot chocolate, puzzles, games, and one-on-one career coaching at the Center for Professional Development; and more.

Members of the community can show first-gen pride with downloadable virtual backgrounds, and on social media, students, faculty, and staff are invited to share their stories using the hashtags #DartmouthFirstGen and #DartmouthFirstGenGrads.

Jay Davis ’90, director of the First Generation Office and the First-Year Student Enrichment Program, says his office supports 745 undergraduates, and that many students in Dartmouth’s graduate and professional schools were also the first member of their families to attend college.

“We are just so excited about this day as an opportunity to be ‘loud and proud’ about our first-generation students and the unique contributions that they make in our classrooms and the broader Dartmouth community,” Davis says. “Dartmouth is joining with hundreds of institutions to celebrate the accomplishments of these remarkable students we are so fortunate to have on our campus.”

The Nov. 8 date for the national celebration was chosen to honor the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

The legislation was passed after President Lyndon B. Johnson called for greater opportunities for members of lower- and middle-income families to get an education beyond high school, and created grants, loans, and other programs to make that possible.

First-generation students make up 16% of the Class of 2026. Many first-generation students have found community through the First-Year Student Enrichment Program, which provides a rigorous pre-orientation program and yearlong support designed to help first-generation students thrive at Dartmouth.

During her commencement address in June, valedictorian Melissa Barales-Lopez ’22 described how the First Generation Office and FYSEP had “built a space for students like me to voice their anxieties and, in turn, receive strength and encouragement from our peers. I have developed lifelong friendships with other FYSEP students, and here I have found a home.”

Like many staff and faculty at Dartmouth, Senior Vice President and Senior Diversity Officer Shontay Delalue and Dean of the College Scott C. Brown were also first-generation college students.

“One of the core elements of diversity is having people with different lived experiences coming together to generate the most innovative ideas. As a first-generation college graduate from a low-income background, I know firsthand the importance of having all voices at the table,” says Delalue. “Students who are first in their immediate families to go to college chart a course that is life-changing. While the journey isn’t always easy, we can take pride in knowing we bring a unique lens to addressing the world’s most pressing problems. I join in celebrating the impact first-generation college students have on our campus here at Dartmouth and in the world.”

“I am especially proud of us getting the very best and brightest students, from every background and part of the world,” Brown says. “As a first-generation college graduate, I am particularly proud of our first-gen students who enrich and advance the Dartmouth community in so many ways, in and out of the classroom. We celebrate you!”


For an up-to-date list of activities, visit the Dartmouth First-Generation Student Celebration site.