A message from VSAC: Our commitment to racial and social justice
Today marks the 2nd annual national First-Generation College Celebration, to recognize the success of first-generation college students and alumni in any and every way possible!
Here in Vermont, VSAC works with middle and high school students who are the first in their family to go to college. Through our Talent Search and GEAR UP programs, we work with over 5,000 Vermont students every year.
That’s a lot of reasons to celebrate. And we’d like to introduce you to Tabitha Pohl-Moore, now a school counselor at Mill River Union High School, and Foram Patel, a recent graduate of UVM.
Tabitha is this year’s recipient of the VEOP Achiever Award – from the Vermont Educational Opportunity Program – and she is president of the Rutland are NAACP. Congratulations to you and we hope you’re celebrating today, too!
I always knew I was going to college. From kindergarten, I knew I wanted to be a psychologist or something along those lines. I was fortunate in that regard.
One day, Jo, my VSAC counselor, pulled out the big book of colleges and told me to pick one. I didn't understand. She said, "Pick one. Anywhere you want to go." I said, "Really?" She said "Yes. You can go anywhere."
I was skeptical at first, but Syracuse University was my No. 1 choice. I wanted to major in psych and cheer there. I didn't really believe that I could go to SU until Jo took me on a college tour at Harvard University. She told me that I could go to Harvard or anywhere else.
Literally stepping on to Harvard's campus and talking with students, I realized that she was right. They weren't that different from me; just a whole lot more wealthy. This was a defining moment in my life. Between Jo telling me that I could and confidently dragging me to all these "name brand" schools like Harvard and MIT, and my own faculty mentor at Mill River telling me that I could do anything (along with my mom yelling, "Tabitha! You are going to change the world. I have no doubt. Just not in my house!"), I was convinced. I really could do anything.
I realized during my senior year of high school that I was not meant to be a flyer (cheerleaders will understand, especially bases), but still wanted to attend SU. I didn't get in, but it didn't bother me. Right under my rejection letter from Syracuse was the acceptance letter from the only other school to which I'd applied.
I knew where I belonged. I still ended up in central New York, but at a small (then) women's college, Wells College. I could not be more grateful for that rejection letter from Syracuse because Wells truly transformed who I am and how I thought about the world.
I still had Syracuse in my heart and I knew I still needed to go there. One of my faculty mentors at Wells had attended Syracuse University and suggested their Marriage and Family Therapy program. I did not realize how competitive it was until after I was accepted and I am so grateful that I was!
My advice to others; listen to that little voice that tells you that you can. Ignore the haters and the people who tell you that if you don't look or act a certain way, if you don't come from money or get a certain score on a standardized test that you don't stand a chance at the place you know you belong.
Work hard, get to know the faculty and their work, and work even harder. Rely on the adults who seem to "get" you. Be financially smart. If your dream school is too expensive, wait to go there until you can earn a fellowship for graduate school (as it turns out, I would never have been able to afford Syracuse for undergrad anyway). Your work ethic, integrity and willingness to step into the unknown will take you further than you think.
I am most proud of my willingness to eat crow, as my grandfather would say. When I left Vermont in 1996, it was with the promise to myself that I would never return, never have children, and never get married. So, when I moved back in 2009 with my spouse and (then) two children, I just had to laugh. But I came back so that I could make my home a better place for disenfranchised Vermonters so that they would never feel like they had to leave like I did. I think that is what I am doing.
The hardest thing was learning to be comfortable with myself. I tried to hide that I came from a low-income family. I couldn't hide my brown skin, but it took me a long time not to be okay with or accept myself, but to actually love who I am and recognize all of the neat gifts that come from struggling. Now, every challenge represents an opportunity for growth.
Foram Patel is working full time as a medical assistant and plans on furthering her education with a physician assistant program in the future. She is from Bennington and graduated from Mount Anthony Union High School.
Hi there! My name is Foram Patel. I am a recent graduate from UVM with a bachelor's of science degree in Psychological Science. I began my undergraduate education immediately after I graduated from high school.
My decision on UVM was mainly made through looking at the pros and cons between the various colleges I was accepted too. The main reason I chose UVM was because I received the most financial aid and that was very important to me.
My advice to students is to get involved in your communities. Whether that is in high school or in college, get involved. You can learn so much though extracurricular activities and they are important in making you a well-rounded individual.
I was very shy growing up but when I reached college I became very involved and moved out of my comfort zone. My proudest moments are those where I challenged myself. I co-facilitated a workshop about Feminist and Multicultural Leadership with a couple of my mentors in St Louis, Missouri. This was extremely nerve-racking because public speaking is a fear, but it was incredible stepping up to the challenge and discussing things that are important to me.
The hardest thing for me while in college was admitting when I needed help. I often felt as though I was drowning due to the work load, my jobs and other involvements. There were plenty of resources around but I had trouble reaching out and asking for the support I needed.
It's important to be honest with yourself. I have become better at this, but know it is a challenge that we all face. Try to be vulnerable and honest with yourself and others; you will find that most people will resonate with your feelings and that type of connection can really be comforting. There are also many supports around available so don't hesitate to reach out! I wish you all the best of luck on your journeys!