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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: A letter to my parents, as a first-generation college student

Photo Courtesy of Caitlyn Yaede.

Parent’s weekend is always an odd time. And it's not just because hundreds of grown adults flock to fraternity house lawns (seriously, why is that a thing?). It's never been an event that I keep on my radar. 

I know my parents well enough to know that tailgates and football games are not worth a two-and-a-half hour drive, and my lack of involvement in Greek life means there is little to do with parents in town, besides waiting a ridiculous amount of time for lunch at Top of the Hill.

Parent’s weekend does, however, remind me of how I differ from many of my peers. I’m one of nearly 4,000 first-generation college students at UNC.

The conversations around first generation students, including those I’ve facilitated, have largely focused on the trials and tribulations of this experience: applying for FAFSA, scheduling classes, not knowing what to expect once I arrived on campus, etc.

And while this is often the reality, I do not often get a chance to discuss the immense pride I have in my parents, having guided my success, both academically and personally, over the years.

So this is an open letter – a thank you – to the duo that held my hand through it all. The homesickness, the breakups, the failed ECON 101 finals. Warts and all.

Thank you for knowing how hard college can be without actually knowing every detail of the sometimes-hellish experience that is higher education. Thank you for sending me cupcakes on my birthday and cat pictures when I need them most.

The love doesn’t stop when I visit home. Thank you for the home cooked meals and putting up with my laziness on the few occasions I can pull myself away from school.

Thank you for being patient. Amidst the chaos that is my life, you always afford me patience, deep care and open ears.

My parents' success has never, in my mind, been contingent on whether or not a bachelor’s degree graces the top of their resumes. They both grew up in less-than-ideal circumstances outside Trenton, N.J. Despite their personal challenges, they found stability and started a family there.

They relocated that family to North Carolina – not knowing a soul in the state – and continued building upward. They are the most resilient people I know, and I can only hope that I can show as much grace and patience as they have shown me is possible in the face of hardship.

Most importantly, I have watched my parents become a rock for each other, especially as both my sister and I relocated to Chapel Hill to be full-time Tar Heels. They make empty-nesting look badass.

And they didn’t need a degree to make all this happen. 

It’s time to deconstruct the idea that four years of higher education is necessary to flourish. And it’s time to end the stigma around being the first in your family to attend a college or university. It’s merely a test of the resilience that our parents imparted in us.

As I was writing this, I learned I was accepted into an accelerated Masters in Public Policy program. So, I get to spend another year at UNC, shattering another glass ceiling that I wouldn’t have thought I possibly could when I started my college career in 2019.

So, whether you are celebrating this time over a blue cup at He’s Not with your guardians or appreciating them from afar like me, happy Parent’s Weekend. And an especially happy Parent’s weekend to the parents of first generation students – you are truly the blueprint.


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Caitlyn Yaede

Caitlyn Yaede is the 2023-24 print managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel and oversees weekly print production. She previously served as the DTH's opinion editor and summer editor. Caitlyn is a public policy master's student at UNC.