Opening proclamation celebrates Ramapo’s first-generation students

Some 47% of students who make up Ramapo’s incoming class of 2023 reported being first-generation, meaning their parents had not completed a 4-year college or university degree. This is the highest percentage in Ramapo’s history and would not have been possible without the signing of the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.

In commemoration, the Ramapo community gathered around the Arch on Nov. 8 for the annual First-Generation College Celebration and dedicated the month in their honor.

Assistant Director of the First-Generation Student Center Uma Mahalingam, a first-gen Ramapo graduate, opened the ceremony by recounting the college’s accomplishments toward empowering first-gen students.

The establishment of a chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha (Tri-Alpha) gives first-gen students access to a national honor society intended to support their academic achievements. The Legacies in the Making program was held for the first time this past summer to help incoming first-gen students transition to college life. Last year, Ramapo’s First-Generation Student Center was accepted into the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators’ First Scholars Network.

Such developments led to a 100% increase in first-gen enrollment from 2020-2023. Mahalingam was delighted by the development.

“To our first generation Roadrunners, I recognize the strength, resilience and perseverance you bring to our community,” she said.

President Cindy Jebb proceeded to read the proclamation inspired by the HEA. After summarizing how Ramapo has embodied the HEA, she said, “Be it resolved, I… hereby proclaim November 2023 as First-Generation College Celebration Month at Ramapo College, and be it further resolved that Ramapo College’s commitment to mentorship, students’ wellbeing and inclusion shall continue to provide a rich foundation.”

Coordinator Of Student Activities Jack Nesmith, a first-gen Ramapo graduate, took the mic to share his story. He described traveling from Jersey City to Ramapo during the summer of 2010 and having a heartfelt phone call with his mother.

Nesmith credited the resources and support from the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program for much of his success. “[EOF] helped me turn my dreams into achievements.”

He concluded his remarks by directly addressing Ramapo’s first-gen students. “You are here because you earned this achievement and this moment that allows you to paint the canvas for success, so make a masterpiece,” he said.

He also encouraged first-gen staff and faculty at Ramapo to mentor them and “rise up the next generation of leaders.”

The final portion of the proclamation spotlighted two first-gen undergraduates.

Tri-Alpha Vice President Gia Barras described her journey as “filled with challenges, growth and unwavering support from this exceptional institution.” Support from her family and the First-Generation Student Center gave her a sense of belonging.

She encouraged her fellow first-gen students to refuse to give up. “Every assignment, every lecture and every late night study session is a step closer to achieving your dreams,” she said.

Senior accounting major Keith Hurst followed her. He recounted how he did not intend to attend college due to the financial barriers until his junior year of high school, when his principal’s support inspired him to try. Hurst quipped about choosing Ramapo because of the highly-rated dorms, but staying because everyone he met was so nice.

Being first-gen has not been without its challenges, but Hurst is grateful for the unique perspective it gives him. “I would not trade this experience for the world,” he said.


Featured photo by Danielle Bongiovanni