On January 14th 2018, at approximately 18:07 GMT, Hawaii sent out a statewide alert warning its residents of an incoming ICBM. The alert was consequently labeled a false alarm and both locals and tourists alike were reassured that there was no imminent danger. However, between the first warning, which spelled out in capital letters, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL” and the false alarm message, countless people were faced with what they thought was a threat of devastating proportions.
I don’t have any family members or friends living in Hawaii, in fact I’ve never even been there. Yet, I felt a sense of reckoning overcome me as I thought about the initial terror I would’ve felt had I been in that situation. Mixed in with that fear would also be great sadness at not being able to realize those dreams that spring into our minds when we think of the future.
As students and members of the first-generation community, bettering ourselves and doing good in our respective corners of the world are admirable tasks, yet the long-term motive behind our actions, the fuel that drives our goals can be unclear at times. In our last post, Professor Hernández brought up the point of belongingness. An extremely well-credentialed academic, Professor Hernández recalls the feeling of isolation that he felt at the beginning of his academic career. It’s a feeling that I’m sure many of us have experienced at some point.
That is why taking a moment to stop and give back to our communities is so important—because only by working to create community for each other can we foster a sense of belonging. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that honors and awards are more than just stepping stools for our own personal ambition; in fact, they can often be platforms from which we can advocate for the success of those who are coming after us. We’ve all benefited in some way from people who took the time to help us out; that’s why it’s so important to pay it forward.
The greatest mistake that we can make as first-generation students is to assume that our value as people is solely measured by our individual successes and that those successes are entirely due to our own efforts. No one is disputing the hours upon hours of hard work that went into bringing our successes to fruition, but there has to be recognition of the impossibility of doing it completely by ourselves. We may not always see these people, but we are all here on the backs of parents who’ve sacrificed, of teachers who've cared, of the counselor who went the extra mile, and for people of color, of ancestors who literally gave their lives so we could set foot in the places we’re in today.
The less we give back the more insular our colleges and work environments become. Moreover, you don’t need to be out of school to begin giving back. For example, helping younger family members who are going through the motions of applying to college or struggling through their second year of high school—these are the people you can make a difference with starting now, not years and years down the road. There isn’t a point in your life where you get handed a certificate that says you’re now qualified to make a difference in the lives of others. So, don’t wait, know that you have the capacity to affect change, and that change just might be the difference in someone’s life—the only way to know is by taking the first step.