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Finding Myself Before I Leave Mills| The pressures of higher education

(Dani Toriumi)
(Dani Toriumi)

As the semester comes to an end, my final projects are getting close to being done and little by little the many stresses are lifted off my shoulders. I can’t help but think about the pressures I have felt. Not just the pressures of classes and schoolwork I have felt this semester, but pressures I have felt for as long as I can remember.

Then there is the pressure of being a first-generation student. Sometimes I feel like I have to prove this to myself. Throughout my time at Mills, I have sat in class or discussion spaces where I shrink as much as I can, feeling like I don’t belong with the people who use huge words and talk about theories and concepts that I have only heard once or twice.

As a low-income student, the pressure of financing myself is a daily anxiety. I am fortunate to have a family who would drop everything in order to help me, yet I don’t want them to make more sacrifices after all they have done for me.  I’d rather they focus on my younger siblings or themselves. I don’t ask for help unless I need it, and even then I feel disappointed with myself. On top of all of this is the  pressure to be successful. I’ve always planned my life with the idea that I would be successful.  These are the constant pressures, in addition to smaller ones that I have everyday.

So what do I do? Do I just keep dragging myself as slowly as I can? Do I just start dropping everything and not caring? No. I deal with these pressures head on.

I’ve learned to start saying no to certain activities and responsibilities – my classes and education are priority number one, along with my health. So as long as I stay focused and organized, it’s possible to be both a book worm and a social butterfly. I remind myself everyday that even though I am a first-gen student who doesn’t know big words, I know a lot more than I think I do. I have my critical thinking skills so that I can learn from the words and ideas that intimidate me. When it comes to finances, there is really no easy way to handle that pressure, but tell myself: “You have worked far too long and far too hard to stop now. You’ll find a way like you always do. You may not like it, but you’ll find a way.” In terms of success… I’m still figuring that one out. Until I do though, my siblings are enough motivation for me. Even if college isn’t for them, I want them to know they can go. Anything is possible. Success is possible no matter what it looks like.

As a low-income first-generation college woman of color who is still learning her identity, these pressures have shaped who I am today. It’s an everyday struggle both internally and externally, but support systems at Mills make these pressures seem less daunting.