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Reflections of a Recent First-Gen College Grad

I recently said in a graduation speech, “transitions are hard, especially when navigating terrain no one before you had the tools to map out.” This one sentence encapsulates my entire first-gen experience. Growing up, I was taught to see value in my education, to view it as an opportunity to be better than my circumstances—an “out.” For a long time, I did not have the language to describe myself as first-gen. All I knew was that my mom never went to college, and while I understood how this fact impacted my everyday life, it didn’t mean much to me outside of that. I wasn’t introduced to the world of first-gen until my first year of high school after being approached by a guidance counselor attempting to recruit me into our Johnson Scholarship Program (now Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program). So this is a full-circle moment for me. That chance encounter changed my life, and I am beyond grateful for it.

When it finally became time for me to apply to college, I suddenly realized how little I knew about the process. Everything I “lacked” was put on display, and I found myself having to be vulnerable in ways I didn’t expect, and at times it was discouraging and overwhelming. Fortunately, I had a program like Take Stock providing me with resources and guidance during the application process. In the end, I only applied to four colleges, the University of Florida being one of them. UF was my first choice. I had never visited, but I knew that it was the place for me, and clearly, UF felt the same because I was accepted and soon after received a full-ride scholarship (thanks, MFOS!).

Although I was excited about this new opportunity, my transition into college was far from easy. I remember constantly telling myself to “embrace change.” That was easier said than done. By the end of my first semester of college, I had changed my major from zoology to English and had already dropped two classes. For a while, I felt like I had given up on myself, on my childhood dream. I labeled myself a quitter whose “failures” were a genuine reflection of my capabilities. Obviously, this wasn’t true, but the unfamiliarity of my environment was getting to me, and I fell into the trap of only seeing myself as a diversity quota. It’s easy when not many people look like you.

I had forgotten about my accomplishments despite my adversity. I had forgotten about my perseverance and strength. My experiences with imposter syndrome, anxiety, and fear were fueled by systems I continue to fight against, and the harsh labels society puts on you when you grow up living and looking like me. When you are “othered,” you hear many things about yourself; you are called many names, stereotyped, and forced into boxes, so you are easier to digest—all attempts to make you feel unworthy and not good enough. However, my mother has always told me that I do not have to answer to the names other people call me because I define who I am. Not my circumstances, not other peoples’ projections, me. This sentiment helped me remind myself that I can do anything I set my mind to.

I often wonder if 18-year-old Yasmine would be proud of who she has become because I had a lot of dreams that did not come to fruition. However, standing on the opposite end of four very long years, I could not be happier and more sure of myself. During my time in college, I have had the opportunity to mentor first-generation college students, give tours to prospective students and their families, write for UF’s first Black student-run magazine, pick up minors in anthropology and African American studies, conduct and present research, start a podcast, make life-long friends, and more importantly, learn the importance of living and being present for the things that matter to me.

Yet, none of this would be possible without my support system. I would not be the woman I am today without the people who have sacrificed for me, mentored me, poured into me, encouraged me, showed me compassion and love, and have seen me before I could even see myself. They are my reminders that the space I take up matters, that the things I do for others matter. I stand on the shoulders of giants, and I am proud to be a reflection of them. They have made the biggest difference in this journey.


Yasmine Adams, a Machen Florida Opportunities Scholar, is a recent graduate of the University of Florida.

Nothing is Ever Truly Out of Reach

The Florida Alternative Breaks program at the University of Florida brought students to Palm Beach County during spring break where the college students mentored students in the Take Stock in Children/Johnson Scholars Program. Amy Albandoz, a Machen Florida Opportunity Scholar, another Johnson Scholarship Foundation grantee partner program, wrote this piece for JSF about her experience. 

When I was young, I was surrounded by the phrase “Follow your dreams.” It was everywhere in my childhood. We were encouraged to pursue our passions from day one, were told that the only thing limiting us was ourselves, and that “The sky’s the limit!” But for some reason I never truly felt included in these celebrations. I felt like I did have limitations, that I could not be who I wanted to be, all because of where I came from.

I came from a single immigrant mother who had two kids and was doing her best to make ends meet. My brother was older than me and was helping make sure that we were taken care of, but when he passed everything changed. At the age of 13, I was thrust into a position I felt like I could not handle. I had to make sure my mom was okay, that she was not overworking herself, all the while making sure that I was doing well in school so that I could get a good job when I graduated and take over.

Dreaming was not really an option for me. Of course, there was a part of me that wished, but reality always won.

However, my bleak outlook changed when I heard about Take Stock in Children. All of a sudden, the wishing became a part of reality – my dreams were no longer fantasy but were within reach. I became surrounded by people who were like me, others who felt excluded from being able to follow their dreams. Take Stock in Children offered me a life safety rope, and I took it.

Take Stock in Children is so much more than just a scholarship. It is a resource and a community of people who do not just tell you that you can achieve anything, but actually show you that you can, and will help you get there. My college success coach and mentor were instrumental in helping me apply for college, and they did not let me stop there. They encouraged me to push further, and keep applying for scholarships, one of which was Leaders for Life. Before becoming a part of the Take Stock family, I would never have thought of applying for it, much less actually doing so. That type of scholarship was simply not for people like me. However, Take Stock showed me that I could dream that big and that I should take a leap of faith.

That leap of faith is what landed me here, as a volunteer in Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars’ Florida Alternative Breaks trip. That leap of faith is what took me back to settings that remind me of home, surrounded by people who remind myself of me. I chose to volunteer because it represented an opportunity to give a portion of myself back to the community that raised me. It was a chance to inspire someone in a way that I wished I had been inspired as a young adult. It took me a while to realize exactly how far I could go, and if I could help even one person realize this now, then I would be happy.

Our group of volunteers worked closely with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Take Stock in Children of Palm Beach County to visit schools and work directly with students. Our goal was to help them realize their potential and answer any questions they might have had. We shared our stories and connected with everyone through a series of games that got us moving and enjoying ourselves. We were able to engage with students, while also making sure that they are aware of exactly how far they can go with the support of the TSIC/Johnson Scholars programs.

We also provided some great tidbits of advice: Make use of the resources that are offered to you. Understand exactly what something entails and take full advantage of the opportunities. These resources are here specifically for you, to help you get to where you want to be. Make sure to utilize them.

Also, find a mentor. A mentor can help you in so many ways from navigating something new, to finding jobs, and learning about new interests. You can find a mentor in anyone and having a safety net is extremely helpful. But also know that forming this type of bond takes time and dedication. Putting yourself out there is a start, but make sure to take an interest in what your mentor is doing as well. Everyone needs encouragement. In the same way that I volunteered to help students I also volunteered to help myself. You are as much of a mentor as you are a mentee.

But inspiring and helping others is not the only reason I decided to volunteer. I also wanted to learn from the students we were working with. Each of these groups was filled with individuals with similar stories to mine, and I wanted to hear about what kept them going, and about what they dreamed to achieve. I learned something from every group we worked with. I learned about compassion, dedication, ambition, and about growth. Even though the time we shared with the students was short, I felt inspired by every personality there. I am very glad to have had the chance to connect with everyone, and I am excited to see what the future will bring for them.

My biggest takeaway from the trip is that while it may feel like something is not meant for you, nothing is ever truly out of reach. If you apply yourself, look for the opportunities, and give it your all, you could very well end up in the place you were dreaming about. All it takes is a leap of faith and a dream.


Amy Albandoz is a University of Florida Machen Florida Opportunity Scholar.