Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

Seattle Pacific University's Student Newspaper

The Falcon

If can, can!

The weight of being a first-gen college student
Freshman Shailey Makahanaloa Valoroso cuts participates in a collaging activity during at Library Fest in Ames Library on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Rio Giancarlo)

In Hawai’i, we have this saying, “If can, can! If no can, den no can.” Put simply: “If you can do it, then do it! If you can’t do it, then don’t do it.” This isn’t just some phrase, it’s a lifestyle. To take advantage of the opportunities life lays out for you or to let them pass you by. No one else in my family has gone to college, so when I received my acceptance to Seattle Pacific University, I told myself, “I can do this, and I will do this.” 

When it comes to being a first-generation college student, there’s a weight on your shoulders. The weight of showing you’re worth something, that furthering your education is making you a bigger and better person. That the money your family and the government are investing in you isn’t going to waste. 

If you have siblings like I do, you want to be a great example. Showing them that college isn’t something to be intimidated by but rather something to look forward to and experience. That if you can do it, they can do it too. Maybe even inspire other family members to do what they once thought was “impossible.” 

When my little sister found out that I was going to college, our conversations on what she wanted to do in the future changed. Just knowing that her sister did it and is still doing it, inspired her to reflect upon herself to do it too. She started saying things like, “Maybe I’ll go to your school! I really liked your school…” For context, she and my family visited after my acceptance.  Sometimes the weight of being this example for my family can be crushing, but when I think about who I could lead into this path, it suddenly becomes less overbearing.  

In the summer of 2022, I went from the coconut trees to the snowy mountains. I came to Washington hunting for my future, a college to settle into. I didn’t know what I was looking for if I’m being quite honest. Business – accounting and finance – that’s all I knew I wanted to do. 

The first campus, University of Puget Sound, just felt cold even though it was summertime. The tour guide was on edge and unhelpful in answering the questions. Campus after campus I got better at asking the questions. I picked up my pace to keep up with the guide, wrote down so many notes on what I liked and didn’t like about the place. At this point, I knew exactly what I wanted from my university. I wanted a university with diversity not only in the student body, but the clubs as well. I needed to feel like I belonged, as soon as I stepped foot on campus, I needed to feel welcomed. To see myself walking these halls, going to class and chatting with my peers. I needed professors I knew I could ask questions and get answers from, to work together and improve the version of me that was entering, to be an even better version of me when I’m leaving. I wanted programs I felt confident in being part of to prepare for my future. A university to help me grow up in the mental sense, as well as in knowledge too.

Finally, we came around to this smaller but no less established institution called Seattle Pacific University. When I came here, I felt warm. I felt the season, it’s as if the roses in Tiffany Loop bloomed for me (let me have my moment), even the crows seemed welcoming. The guide was understanding and acquainted with the dozens of questions I had. It felt like for once, out of all the tours I’d been on, I was where I belonged. There was a higher power calling me to SPU and I knew that for my future, I needed to be here.  

Now it’s winter quarter of my freshman year here at SPU and I still feel the warmth I felt two years ago. 

I’ve found others who are paving the way for a new generation of college students in their family. I’ve made connections with both professors and peers who understand what it’s like to be under this pressure. I’m learning that a B in Microeconomics is still a good grade! I’m learning that city life is pretty fun and not too scary. I actually like Gwinn food and that’s saying a lot from someone who comes from the land of laulau and kalua pig. I’m learning to live with other women who have goals like mine and we encourage each other every day.  

My sister asks me questions about my life here every week, and I look forward to her calls because I always have things to tell her about classes, friends and my latest adventure. My identity as a first-generation college student makes me hold my head high. Every step I take up this path is a step that I can gladly say I took. I do it with pride and confidence in knowing who I am, where I come from and where I’m going.

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About the Contributor
Rio Giancarlo, Chief Photographer
Rio is a sophomore visual communication major with a minor in photography. Rio manages a team of photographers and illustrators to supply content for the greater SPU media groups. Before he took his current position he worked as a staff photographer, mostly covering sports. When not working for The Falcon he works for the SPU athletic department and as a freelance photographer. In his free time you can find him skiing, or wishing he was skiing. 
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