A boy walks into the San Jacinto Residence Hall lobby for the first time in the late summer of 2017. He is alone but not intimidated because he knows this is what he has worked for the past four years. The steep price of college tuition was the reason he quit high school athletics to work a full-time job at the age of 15 and focused on academics in an attempt to earn a scholarship.
As a first-generation student growing up in a largely single-parent household, he knew he would not receive any help from his father when it came to college expenses and quality of resource accessibility. The boy enters his room and knows it will be different not sharing a home with any of his nine siblings from four failed marriages. His brothers and sisters mean the world to him; two of them are differently abled than others, but that does not stop the boy from constantly joking with them when he has the opportunity. The struggles they went through as a family only brought the boy closer to his siblings as they grew older. He will miss them.
He leaves his room and heads downstairs. The first person he sees is a girl in the elevator struggling with a case of water. He thinks to ask her if she needs help, but he is too shy and lets her pass. All in all, it had been a good day. The boy had gotten everything situated in his dorm and was ready for the semester to begin. He had no idea that three years later he would be a Resident Assistant for that dorm, and the girl he was too shy to suggest helping with the water would be one of his closest friends.
The girl he saw had arrived earlier that day, two weeks before school was to start in order to attend a leadership conference. She is accompanied by her two supportive parents, both of whom were first-generation college students. Her mother, who was a first-generation citizen from Mexico, supported her but did not want her to leave her hometown for fear of being too far away if something were to happen.
As the girl continues to unload her belongings, she thinks about how her mother wanted her to attend UT-El Paso, which was what most people in her hometown did, but the girl wanted to experience other opportunities away from home. She does not know anyone here and is intimidated by the size of the school. She hopes she will find her place, but is having second thoughts on if she made the right decision. The pressure her parents have put on her to succeed in college weighs heavily on her shoulders.
To get her mind off worrying, the girl goes for a walk around the track outside and thinks about the goals she has for her future at UT. She sees others walking and is shocked by the extensive amount of cultures represented around her because her hometown had a predominant influence of Latinx culture. She is worried she will have difficulty maintaining her Hispanic identity and hopes she will be accepted because of it. As she walks back to her room at the end of the evening, she feels anxious but excited for this new opportunity. At the time, she would have never guessed that three years later she would be the University Resident Hall Association president and running to be the next student body president.
We all have stories of our own, setting us apart from others, defining us as individuals, making us unique. As you may have guessed, these are our own stories of our first day at UT, and we are proud to share them with you. You see, our life experiences shaped us into the people we are today and helped us find the communities we identify with here. We represent those that may appear different from the “normal” person, those who have endured hardships in their life, those who are experiencing life on their own for the first time, and many others — not just because they support us but because they are a part of us.