Luis’s Story

Facing College: Diverse Student Voices from Michigan State University

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Being a first-generation college student isn’t very easy. Nor is it easy to come from a community such as Pontiac, Michigan, which is known for having a low rate of high school graduates. The standards in Pontiac weren’t exactly up to par. Many people never make it out of Pontiac to seek higher education. Pontiac is one of the poorer communities in Michigan so many people don’t have means to make it out and go to college. I made it out by applying, getting accepted and moving on campus to Michigan State University.

My interest in Michigan State began after a motivational speaker came and talked to my class. He talked about needing a high ACT score, and about how there were ways to help finance our education. Not many people from Pontiac got accepted to big schools like MSU, but I applied anyway. Originally, I thought I wasn’t going to get in, so I considered other options like Oakland University, and even joining the military (specifically speaking the Marines); until one day I found inspiration through my writing teacher. She sat us down and asked us what we wanted to do with our life. I reflected upon this question and decided that I wanted more out of life than staying in Pontiac or what the military had to offer. I wanted to be the first in my family to attend a major institution. Not long after that, I received my acceptance letter from Michigan State.

Being a first gen college student had its complications. Luckily, I received some really helpful advice from my high school principal: get involved in as many student organizations as I could. I ran with that advice and have become very involved here on campus. I am part of ‘On the Rise’, an organization that performs community service and puts on fun events for students here on campus. I am also part of black caucus and The Gentlemen’s Club here on campus. I come from a community that is primarily Hispanic and African American.

Although we were different groups, we felt like one big minority group. It was completely different here at MSU. The diversity here on campus is awesome, but definitely took some getting used to. I sought out the black caucus because I wanted to be a part of an organization that brought unity to minority groups on campus like back in Pontiac. MSU prides itself on its diversity and aside from a few isolated incidents I haven’t experienced much discrimination. I also wanted to give back to the community here. My current role within the black caucus is to seek out community service opportunities. I feel like my involvement here on campus helped my transition to MSU quite a bit. Though, there has definitely been some bumps in the road. I didn’t become involved in these organizations until my sophomore year. I’m also currently on my third major and my grades aren’t where I want them to be, but I’m still striving.

After my first year here at MSU, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Before I branched out and became involved, my attitude maybe wasn’t where it was supposed to be. My classes were hard and I was struggling, so I tried to find support back home. In that first summer after returning home, my friends assured me that I was doing the right thing by pursuing a degree. Another source of motivation for me was my little brother. He looks up to me and I wanted to set a good example for him, so that maybe one day he could follow in my footsteps. I try to tell him all the time that he has potential, and that there are ways to get out of Pontiac. I don’t want him to think that his future was limited to a factory job, or learning a trade. I returned to MSU that next year with an open mind, ready to get involved. I have finally decided on a major and that is advertising. I am a huge sports fan, and dream of one day working for a large sporting goods company, or even a sports team.

My future holds limitless possibilities here at MSU. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many people back home in Pontiac, and minorities all over the country. One day I want to return to Pontiac and be a source of motivation for kids like me. Throughout my journey several people inspired me to get me to where I am now. Who knows where I would be right now if it weren’t for those individuals. I also want to continue to give back to my community after graduation. I spend a lot of time here giving back to the community and enjoy it. I would love to give back to Pontiac.

This story originally appeared in Facing College: Diverse Student Voices, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

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