Ramapo EOF alum speaks about being a first-generation student

To kick off First-Generation College Celebration Month, the First-Generation Center, the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance and the Schomburg Committee cosponsored the Proud to be First workshop last Wednesday. Students and faculty came to listen to the story of Ramapo Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) alumni Clifton Shambry.

Shambry started the event with a quote he relates his life to by poet Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

He asked the audience some questions about their most challenging moments, a time where they felt confused about what was happening, a time when they had no answers and an accomplishment they were proud of. 

“I like to combine both the challenging and the proud moments because sometimes our challenging moments can also be proud moments,” he said.

He introduced himself as a spiritual cisgender, queer, Black man who is also a first-generation student and a limited-income graduate. During his time at Ramapo 11 years ago, he was a part of and worked for the EOF program, a resident assistant, a part of the Student Government Association and an orientation leader. 

This led him to delve deeper into his childhood, where he explained that he grew up the eldest of three children and lived with his mother in an apartment-complex the size of the College Park Apartments. He recounted the difficulties his family faced, such as when the kitchen ceiling caved in and rendered it unusable and when his family fell on hard times and had to seek shelter elsewhere.

His challenges only grew as he mentioned his mother’s passing, with last week marking the 24th year since. He and his siblings ended up moving in with his older brother, a figure he hadn’t known before but who he felt grateful towards for taking them in. 

“I was just really proud that that was something, that I could actually get to know my oldest brother and his wife at the time, and really be in a safe environment to grow and develop,” he said. 

Finally, he took some time to thank various people in his life, including EOF employees from when he attended Ramapo, his family and his friends. Something he emphasized during this section was the idea of chosen family and how the friends you make along the way can become your relatives. 

This led into the second section of the workshop where he asked the audience to participate in an activity. After passing out note cards and pens, audience members were asked to answer one question. They could explain why they attended the conversation, who they are and how they want to be remembered, how they could be their best self, or how they could support and advocate for others.

Another activity involved a slip of paper with four bars labeled “work,” “play,” “love” and “health.” One side of the bar represented emptiness while the other was fullness. Audience members were asked to fill out the bars depending on their lives. This allowed people to reflect on where they were at in life. 

Attendees were then asked to do the same activity, but this time fill the bars depending on what they want to improve. What this did was allow people to consider what changes they wanted to make in their lives to come closer to who they want to be.

“A colleague of mine says that if you’re sacrificing more than one area it asks for, you’re sacrificing all of them, and so it’s important to really process that for yourself,” he said.




Featured photo by Peyton Bortner