First-Generation Students: Voices of Success

Current WWU Students

Izzy DeGrasse

Izzy DeGrasse

Communication Studies/English - Creative Writing

I was the first in my family to leave home at eighteen for university, and it terrified me. My newfound sense of independence was at a crossroads with the weight of responsibility to make my family proud. I spent many nights worrying if I would be good enough for college, and not enough time asking if college was good enough for me. So, with the ambition and curiosity that my family instilled in me, I was able to step into my power here at WWU and make my own path full of my personal passions and new experiences. Although my parents and I had different journeys, with their support and newfound confidence as a college student, I know that even if I shoot for the moon and miss, I can land amongst the beautiful stars.

Sofia Quizon

Sofia Quizon

Communication Studies, Psychology/Dance

When I first moved to the U.S. at 16, I thought I was disadvantaged compared to my peers. Learning how to navigate and find my way through a foreign system was and still is difficult, but over time I've come to realize that these struggles were actually my greatest strengths. Only through these hardships have I learned of my own resilience and determination. By being able to receive a higher education, especially here in the U.S., I have been lucky enough to receive opportunities that I could never even dream of back home. Thank you to my family for believing in me when I couldn't do it myself. Thank you to my mom for being brave enough to take a chance and sacrifice so that I could experience a better life. 

Our circumstances do not define us, but rather it is how we make use of the opportunities presented that makes all the difference.

WWU Alumni

Irene Bibian

Irene Bibian


While growing up, I have realized that life is rocky and it has its ups and downs, but one thing that I have constantly been reminded of is taking advantage of all opportunities that come my way. I was granted the opportunity to continue my education at a four-year university because of the sacrifices my father had to make. Without the unconditional love and support from him, I wouldn’t have been able to be where I am today. I am a first-generation student and woman of color who plans to give back to my father for all his sacrifices to get me to Western. Everything I do is for him.

Dario Castellon sitting outside near a tree.

Dario Castellon

Urban Planning and Sustainable Development

I remember, clearly, having to jump off a dock in the first week of rowing practice. I didn’t know how this whole rowing thing would go since I didn’t know how to swim or row. All I knew was that at least 20 other people would be going through the same experience. This is what is has been like as a first-generation college student. I did not know how college would go. I just knew that there were thousands of other students starting at the same time. One of the first things I learned was that everyone jumps in at different levels of experience – some of us with none. To me, college has been so much more than an education and a way to make a better life for myself, my family, and my community. Being able to attend college gave me the opportunity to build life-long friendships and to build a community that has inspired me in many forms. This community has inspired me to find and celebrate my identity, to stand my ground and to claim my right to an education. College has been challenging – more like a dodgeball game, where I’ve been hit from different angles – and I’ve questioned my place here. But I can tell this story thanks to amazing people in my life.

I am grateful for the community that surrounds me today, as they have made sure my head stays above water and inspired me to help others stay afloat. I am grateful for those who came before us, that through their work they build resources to help us navigate higher education today.

Shoutout to my family for supporting me all along, to my mother for her countless sacrifices so I could be here, and my father, who even though he can’t be here, walks with me every step in spirit. On graduation day, we will all walk together.

Rodolfo Delgado, Jr. smiling for the camera

Rodolfo Delgado, Jr.

Business Administration – Management

I’ve always known that it was important for me to further my education - to take the opportunities that my parents didn’t have. But I had no idea how much attending a university would open my eyes and inspire me to help the future generations of my family to pursue their dreams. I’m excited to be the person they come to for advice, and to be able to pass on knowledge and experiences that I’ve gained here.

Le'Ana standing inside the Rock Ring Sculpture at WWU

Le'Ana Inez Freeman

Fairhaven College, Interdisciplinary Studies – “Theoretical Perspectives on Global Human Rights: Racial Identity & Colonialism”

Being a first-generation student resembles something extraordinary to me.  Where others saw disadvantage and societal victimization, I saw potential.  I have spent my entire life making the conscious decision to see possibility and create opportunity because I have the audacity to believe in my purpose.  For the “Courageous don’t live forever but the cautious don’t live at all.”  With my family as my strength and courage as my virtue, I can say that it hasn’t been easy, but it certainly has been worth it.


Anu Herra standing outside next to the Rock Ring Sculpture at WWU

Anu Heera

Political Science

To be a first-generation woman of color means that I have struggled. It means I still struggle. Sitting through classes, when I don’t understand anything, I am always forced to ask the question, “Do I even belong here?” But I am reassured by the fact that I am not alone.

After creating my community here at WWU, I have realized that there are others that ask themselves the same question.  We all have our own stories that set us apart. I stay for my parents - my beautiful amazing parents - who have worked long, hard hours just to see their daughter walk on graduation day. The sense of pride they will feel, the sense of relief that their hard work paid off. Although they were not privileged with the same opportunities, they were able to live their life through their children.

I do this for those who have come before me, and those who will come after - a stepping stone and another story to tell.  Another inspiration.

Being a first-generation college student, as glorified as the image is, has its harsh realities. But to be able to overcome those obstacles is a victory that most others will not understand.

Amberly Khamsaly Standing outside a brick building on campus

Amberly Khamsaly

Human Services

Being a first-generation college student is a lot of pressure. However, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to receive a college education. For many students, including myself, pursuing a college education is a way to pave a path towards the future, to make our families proud, to challenge ourselves, to expand our knowledge, to be an inspiration, and to make a difference in the world - and if not the world, then someone’s world.

Abu leaning against a wood railing in front of a brick wall

Abu Naimzadeh

Physics and Astronomy

In today’s day and age, information is easily accessible. But knowledge takes time and patience. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to pursue a degree in physics and further understand the universe that we live in. The people that I’ve met and interacted with are every bit a part of my journey to make a difference. Having a college education may help me live a comfortable life later on, but the more important thing that I’ve learned is how powerful it is to be a good person and help others on their journey to make a difference as well. This institution has helped me to realize that there is work to be done, and we all have the capacity to do and be great. We are made of star dust, after all.


Yalda Naimzadeh

Yalda Naimzadeh

Biocultural Anthropology and Spanish

I was always “the other” in my classes growing up, and that did not change in university. Being a first generation womxn, I was always forced to prove that I deserve to be here, like my peers, receiving the same education as them, but working twice as hard. Although it’s been hard, through making personal connections in the ESC, I was able to find a community that related to my struggles where we were able to laugh and cry together. Through my parents’ sacrifices, the importance of higher education was instilled in me very early, and it was not until recently that I learned this success is for my parents, my community, and myself. I hope to take everything I have learned from my years in higher education to give back to my community.

Thank you to my parents, without whom I would not know love, strength, and compassion. Thank you to my brother, without whom I would not know determination and hard work. Everything I do and everything I am is for them and because of them.

Emran Rezai

Emran Rezai

Sociology and French

No one said that this was ever going to be easy. That was evident in my parents’ numerous sacrifices they made for me to be here and to receive a college education – an opportunity they never had. I did this for my talented friends, my beautiful family that includes my hard-working sister who was the first among us to graduate, and for those who still continue to doubt me and question if I really belong here. I have met many wonderful individuals throughout this journey who have inspired me to be the best that I can possibly be, and whom I continue to hold dear to my heart. But as successful as you can possibly become, I truly believe in the importance of remembering your roots and honoring those who came before you, and to give back to those communities and people who have empowered and motivated you. Never forget where you came from.

Grace Sales

Grace Sales

Mathematics, Secondary Education

I was raised by a dedicated single parent who taught me to value education. I knew early in my life that I would face challenges as a first-generation student, but still, I would dream of going off to college, to the place where I would learn to make my mark on the world. My driven attitude to grow and learn, despite the obstacles, is what led me to become a teacher. My life has been touched by so many gracious educators, and I simply hope to return the favor to my students. I will forever be grateful for the opportunities I was given thanks to my mom’s sacrifices and the encouragement of my role models. The best way to repay those who have helped me reach my goals is to guide others on their path to success.

Nancy Talavera

Nancy Talavera

Biology EEO/Psychology

Pursuing a higher education is a privilege that both my parents worked hard to give me. They sacrificed so much along the way to ensure that I would get the education they aspired for me to receive. If not for their endless efforts I would not be in the position I am today, which is something I don’t take for granted. My parents have always modeled a strong work ethic which I try to emulate within my own education as well as in my daily life. In addition to my parents, I also feel a sense of responsibility to my Hispanic community to try and set an example to future students that may find themselves in a similar position.

All images by Lauren McClanahan.