Inaugural First Scholars Dinner a Success

Photo by Dara Chen '15 | First Scholars gathered on April 7 for a dinner to honor their achievements as first generation college students.  

Alison Yong '13 Copy Editor

On April 7, Smith students, faculty and staff known as First Scholars – those who are the first generation in their families to attend college – gathered for a dinner to honor their achievements. The event marked the inauguration of a well-received tradition, as evidenced by the fact that the original invitation list had to be trimmed to include only sophomores, juniors and seniors; even then, there was still a waitlist.

During the reception before the dinner, students, faculty and staff mingled to discuss their experiences both inside and outside of the college. Asked what the benefits of choosing to attend Smith as a First Scholar were, Joselina Tejada ’13 said, “Having the support system. Where if I ever need anything I can go to my housemates.”

Associate Professor of History Jennifer Guglielmo echoed the importance of fellowship.

“I would have loved something like [the First Scholars Dinner] when I went to college,” she said. Guglielmo, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noted the “sense of community” at Smith as particularly remarkable.

Before the dinner portion began, Provost Marilyn Schuster took the podium as an emergency replacement for Carol Christ, who had described the rising number of First Scholars at Smith as her “proudest accomplishment.”

“Other colleges envy Smith’s [ability] to attract First Scholars,” she said.

Lauren Magliozzi ’13 shared her essay on how she arrived at Smith, which she first heard about when a boy attempted to insult her by saying, “You’re such a feminist, you’ll probably end up at that Smith College!” After gaining admittance, visiting the college and liking everyone she met there, she was certain that she wanted to enroll; however, her parents didn’t think they could afford it.

Magliozzi’s story addressed the conflict inherent in being the first in one’s family to attend college and absorb knowledge exclusive to those inured to campus life.

“I know the struggle between loving my background and leaving my background,” she said.

Seata Shyon ’13, an intern in the Office of Multicultural Affairs as well as a First Scholar, introduced Risa Lander ’09, the alumna keynote speaker.

Lander applied early decision to Smith, where she studied Spanish and education & child study. The head resident of Baldwin House as well as a member of the Phoebe Reese Lewis Leadership Program, she found time in her busy undergraduate career to study abroad in Spain and go on an alternative spring break trip to New Orleans to clean up after Hurricane Katrina.

Shyon described an equally rich post-graduation life, when Lander matriculated directly into law school. She spoke of Lander’s provision of “over 700 hours of legal services to immigrants” at Immigration Legal Services in Washington, D.C.  Now, having recently passed the bar, she is waiting to receive her license to practice.

Lander spoke about her own journey to Smith. To her, being a First Scholar meant having “a better opportunity; a ticket out of the neighborhood [she] grew up in.” She related the tale of how her parents came to America from Grenada to escape poverty. Her mechanic father and school aide mother impressed upon her and her four siblings the importance of higher education.

“As a teenager I felt that my mother was extremely hard on me,” she said, citing her mother’s tendency to claim that there was “room for improvement” whenever she brought home perfect scores on her tests. Her insistence that her daughter ask for extra credit influenced Lander, who set high standards for herself.

“You have what it takes to be successful,” she promised. Lander noted that it was the First Scholars’ decision-making that had landed them at Smith, a fact that inspired her to recommend that they “continue making those choices.”

The “Four C’s” that she endorsed – cultivating relationships, having confidence, challenging yourself and contributing to the community – were tenets that she had relied upon during her time at Smith.

“Don’t compare yourself to others,” she said. “I urge you to not try to be perfect.”

Lander connected her time at the Smith Spanish language table with her ability to communicate and form relationships with people who did not know English while at Immigration Legal Services. She also joked that she studied the language when she took in “telenovelas, watched TV with subtitles [and] dated Spanish men.” Though traveling abroad and fumbling with the language was a huge risk on her part, she cautioned students against remaining within their comfort zones, because “through failures you learn.”

When she spoke of visiting New Orleans to aid in the clean-up effort, Lander advised, “Be thankful to everyone who has helped you along the way.” Giving back by contributing to others was her way of showing appreciation to those who had supported her.

The night ended with L’Tanya Richmond, director of multicultural affairs, speaking about her grandmother – one of seven children – being taken out of school in the third grade to tend to the farm and care for her siblings. However, because she valued academics, she independently undertook reciting the alphabet backwards and reading every page in the Bible. Because Richmond’s grandmother helped her family and supported her granddaughter, she successfully instilled in Richmond the belief that “You never do anything alone.”

Richmond noted the incredible turnout at Smith’s inaugural First Scholars Dinner, stating that there would have to be future dinners to commemorate the achievements of the growing group. Echoing the sentiments of Lander, who had said, “Be thankful to everyone who has helped you along the way,” she thanked Schuster, Shyon and the First Scholars themselves.

For Richmond, working with First Scholars was “truly the highlight of what [she does] at Smith.”