Freshmen Kyran Owens and Caitlyn Wooten are a part of the 1,700 first-generation college students enrolled at Tennessee State University. Photo by Aaron Grayson

By Alexis Clark

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — Making the decision to leave home and attend college isn’t an easy one to make, especially if you’re the first in your family. Currently, Tennessee State University has approximately 1,700 first-generation college students enrolled, including 1,000 freshmen. TSU recently recognized these students during a special program that featured a panel discussion and gift giveaways.

The event consisted of first-generation panelists pouring into current students with relatable stories of their journey and breaking down the barriers that were challenging to them. 

My’asia Earsery, a freshman studying psychology, said the event reassured her that she isn’t going through the challenges of college alone. “To hear what got everyone else though (college) made me feel comfortable about my journey,” Earsery said. “It felt very genuine. “The panelists made me proud to go to an HBCU. It was a panel full of people who looked like me,” she said.

Panelists included TSU alum Delvakio Brown, a Hospitality and Tourism Professional, Mario Eberhart, a TSU senior who is a Private Chef and entrepreneur, TSU Career Services Coordinator Sabrina Johnson, and TSU alum Tequila Johnson, co-founder of the Equity Alliance. 

During the event there was a Q &A discussion about navigating college, pushing though hardships, sacrifices, long-term goals, self-exploration, and individuality.

“As a first-generation college student, you are probably the biggest resource that you have,” Tequila Johnson said. “What am I good at? What are my strengths and my weakness? Who am I, and who do I want to become?” Are questions that Johnson asked the students.

Sabrina Johnson told the students that the sky is the limit. “Always remember that you want to be the change you want to see,” she added.

Eberhart, who was the only current student on the panel, told the students that the journey will come with obstacles such as, “having to navigate myself financially through college … while remaining optimistic.”

While Brown reminded the students that those mistakes are a part of the learning process.

“When you mess up, don’t stay stuck,” Brown said. “There will not always be a template to go by … it’s okay to not be perfect.” As the event came to an end, the students received gift bags and recited a student pledge to success.

Kyran Owens, a freshman studying biology, said he was glad he attended the event.

“It was very helpful,” Owens said.

“Be the change that you want to be,” was the quote that resonated with him most. While Caitlyn Wooten, a freshman majoring in cardiorespiratory, said she was reminded to never give up on her dreams. “I gained independence and learned different strategies on how to go about college,” Wooten said. “It was something to take in and remember throughout my journey.”

The event was presented by the TSU You First Project, in collaboration with the career development center.