In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve found myself reflecting on the multitudes of privilege I’m gaining being a University student, and in three and a half short years, a University graduate. As a first-generation, low income student (FLI), coming to the University has been filled with innumerable blessings. These blessings are also equally weighed in guilt.
I have already been given opportunities that many in my small, rural community back in Arkansas will never have. For example, much of the gear freely given by the residential colleges costs more than most of the clothing I own. Traveling with groups on the University’s dime has allowed me to experience the world in a way I would never have been able to before. This includes going to Venice through the Music department, Japan through a Global Seminar, London and the American northwest coast through my a cappella group, and soon Morocco through the Chapel Choir. Summer internship and travel opportunities take at least two years to plan and come out of pocket for those attending state schools in Arkansas, while we enjoy generous opportunities and an even more generous endowment at the University.
Even the act of eating in the dining halls while people haphazardly waste food fills me with guilt, as around 30 percent of my community doesn’t know where their next meal is going to come from. Thanksgivings in my house are simple, short, and sweet, with every bit of food on the table is eaten or saved for later. What isn’t eaten that night will be eaten in the weeks following, as letting food go to waste is virtually a sin. It makes me thankful to be at the University, as my single mother has one less mouth to feed during the holiday.
However, what fills me with the most guilt and fear by far is the label I gain when I graduate from Princeton. I’ve seen how people continually hate on Ivy League graduates. In fact, I’ve done the same. It’s a frustrating thought that someone had an easier time in the application process, and most likely in life, simply by the status their parents gained upon graduation.
I can’t help but think about the parents of legacy students. While some of them have been given life on a silver platter, I wonder how many of their parents were in my situation during their time at the University. Are their children simply reaping the benefits of blood, sweat, and tears from the previous generation? How many parents turned the guilt they felt being the first in their family to go to college and/or being low income into success? And what does it mean for me to add to the backlash their children receive as a result of something they couldn’t control?
I have been thrust into a world of privilege, and I’m not used to it. This is by no means a defense of the privileges that come from being a legacy student or a means to justify my hesitations on the legacy status. It’s simply musings from a small break in a busy schedule that’s given me the time to be both thankful and feel guilty for being here.
In this time of Thanksgiving, the opportunity to live in a space with so many amazing and thought-provoking people is one of the many things I’m thankful for. I hope everyone can take a break from their busy lives to reflect a bit on what their place at the University means — and who and what helped them get there, good and bad. Be thankful, and enjoy Thanksgiving, y’all!
Kirsten Keels is a sophomore from West Fork, Ark. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.