The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement continues to cultivate opportunities where our University’s First Generation Community builds on the momentum of recognizing, supporting and celebrating success.
As our Spring semester begins, we want to share with you the first in a series of personal narratives written by members of our First Generation Community.
Our Inaugural Edition of “I am…FIRST GEN PROUD“…is authored by our First Lady of the University of Texas at Austin, Ms. Carmel Fenves. Carmel, a textile artist is a first-generation college graduate from the University of California at Davis. When Carmel moved to Austin, she created and opened a local Austin business with her friend and colleague, the cozy-chic boutique Walker Hall Design. She has recently stepped away from her business to spend her time on campus, meeting with students and alumni of the university.
Thanks to all of you who have supported our First Generation initiatives!
So… what did you do this summer? A typical question that we ask our friends once we’re back at school or work.
My summer was HOT but my sister traveled from California to visit me in Austin, Texas.
When she and I get together, we often reminisce about family and retell old stories. We even embellish them a bit. It involves a ton of sidesplitting laughter and sometimes it’s bittersweet, too.
This visit, she told me a story that I hadn’t heard before.
It was about our mother.
You must first know that it was my mom who inspired and motivated me to go to college. Neither of my parents had attended, but she had a plan for me, and later, my younger sister. Dad was always supportive, but mom gave me the push.
She was a very smart and practical woman who loved to read. Kind and considerate, she was also the disciplinarian. She made the best chocolate chip cookies. Sadly, I didn’t inherit that skill! And she loved to hear stories about people and their lives, especially those who had achieved their dreams after facing great adversity. Success stories gave her hope and reinforced her faith in the “can do” spirit.
So, late one night, comfortable on the sofa, my sister told me a story from years earlier.
My sister had gone to visit my mom in a rehabilitation hospital where she was trying to recover from a health condition. Mom wasn’t fully aware of her environment, could barely speak and slept most of the time. When visitors came, she would simply listen as they greeted and soothed her.
My sister was alone in mom’s room and asked her if she would like to be read to. Mom slowly nodded yes.
With only the local newspaper available, my sister found an article about a young woman who was originally from a Spanish-speaking country. She had a sad and challenging story, but the article reported in detail that over the years, she persevered and finished high school, then college. She was the first in her family to do so!
My sister didn’t know how much of this information our mom comprehended. When she looked up at mom after finishing the article, they made eye contact. Mom was full-on smiling and happy!
Call it coincidence, but I think mom heard every word of the article and understood the amount of hard work and sacrifice this person had put in to achieve her goals. The student’s happy ending gave mom great joy in that small moment of clarity.
I remember my mother smiling at me and cheering me on when I was dropped off at college, maybe sensing that I was feeling a bit timid on a big campus. Maybe because she was sending me away with all of her hopes. Maybe because she was proud of me. Proud that I was representing our family, the Hispanic culture, and my generation. She was my biggest fan.
This brings me back to the present…and to you.
As first-generation students, I imagine that your families are immensely proud of you, as my family was of me.
You may not realize, at least not yet, that there are people on campus—UT students, faculty and staff members, who are, or were, first-generation students just like you and me.
And there are others that cheer you on even though they don’t know you personally. They may be volunteers at UT, generous donors, community leaders, scholarship-supporting alumni or just someone’s mom who loves to watch people thrive–like mine.
Their loyalty to the Forty Acres enables you to take advantage of your time at UT, opening doors to opportunities that have the potential to transport you to places neither you nor your families can even fathom right now.
Starting a new school year is exciting! It’s nerve-racking! But that’s because you’re on the verge of a special experience; one that will require you to apply yourself to your education. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll achieve a lot. You’ll make great friends. It was that way for me.
If you ever feel confused or slightly overwhelmed, remember–-it’s okay to ask for help! There are people on campus who will guide you. They will show you how to stay on your path. They will help you navigate this awesome time in your life. They will celebrate YOU.
I AM CARMEL FENVES AND I AM FIRST GEN PROUD!