Provided/A First-Gen student signs a banner.

MAYS LANDING — Atlantic Cape Community College Student Support Services and Educational Opportunity Fund applauded the college’s first generation students and faculty during First-Gen College Week Celebration, Nov. 8-10 on the Mays Landing campus.

Despite various hurdles standing in their way, many current students and faculty are living examples of perseverance in the pursuit of being the first in their family to attend college and achieve academic excellence in higher education.

“National First-Generation College Celebration Day is a day to celebrate the success of our first-generation college students, faculty and staff on our campus, and Atlantic Cape is celebrating all week to recognize and highlight those individuals that are the first in their family to work toward a college degree.” Student Support Services Director Rashawn Martin said in a statement.

The event, which was started in 2017 by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, featured a First-Gen celebrity photo op, photo booth, open mic/karaoke, air-brushed T-shirts, and food and beverages. It allowed students to interact with fellow First-Gen peers and faculty members who wrote a new chapter in their respective family stories by attending college.

The Center for Student Success sponsored the Student Government Association Homecoming Tailgate Party Nov.10 with an inflatable football toss game in the quad, entertainment, and encouraged wearing school colors. The weeklong festivities concluded with a trip to iFly Indoor Skydiving in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

“This celebration is personally important to me because, like other First-Gen students, we are breaking barriers and accomplishing something that our parents were unable to,” Martin added.

First-Gen students and faculty gathered in the Student Center to celebrate.

Receiving strong encouragement to continue their education in college from parents who were unable to attend college themselves, and from spouses and children was a strong motivator for many Atlantic Cape faculty.

“My mother never allowed us to believe that we were impoverished, to feel less than others and she believed we would all go to college. My family was so proud of me,” said Assistant Dean of Nursing and Health Sciences Myrna Morales Keklak, who earned an MSN in Nursing Practitioning from Seton Hall University. “I can still picture my father standing in the back of the audience. Everyone deserves to achieve academically so persevere and never give up.”

Director of Worthington Atlantic City campus Student Affairs and One Stop Services Cynthia Correa, who earned a BA in Political Science from Stockton University, received similar encouragement as well.

“My mother was a single parent and didn’t have the opportunity to complete her education. She encouraged me to continue my studies and get a college education,” she said.

Other faculty members, meanwhile, knew that higher education was the necessary path towards achieving personal enrichment and professional fulfillment.

“I was a teen parent who lost everything during Superstorm Sandy and wanted to put myself and my children in a better situation. There were hard days where I wanted to give up,” Adjunct Professor Crystal Hutchinson said. “I worked full-time and raised my family while getting my education. My family is incredibly proud and I became a teacher and now an adjunct professor to fulfill my obligation to give back.”

First-Gen students enjoyed food, refreshments and fun during First-Gen festivities.

For many current students the family stories and desire to succeed in higher education are similar.

“My parents gave me what they didn’t have. They encouraged me to go to college because they didn’t get the opportunity since their parents didn’t have enough money, so they focused more on work,” said Tanya Shukovsky, a sophomore business major from Estell Manor said. “I feel grateful more than anything. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t go to school because I want to be a lawyer.”

Kayla Megronigly, a freshman Environmental Science major from Egg Harbor Township said, “I am the first in my family to go to college. My mom was a single mother and she always pushed me to do the things she couldn’t. My older sister didn’t go to college and none of my living relatives went to college and I am excited to be the first to do that.”

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Nanette LoBiondo Galloway

Award winning journalist covering news, events and people of Atlantic County for more than 20 years.