Fifth annual First-Generation celebration honors Elon faculty, students, staff

The celebration was held in Alumni Gym on Wednesday, November 8, and offered a place for first-generation students to mingle, reflect and enjoy themselves.

First-generation students holding balloons at the First-Generation Celebration in Alumni Gym on Nov. 8.

Elon University dedicated the week of Nov. 6-10 to host the fifth annual weeklong First-Generation Student Celebration with multiple events held to celebrate Elon’s first-generation community. On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a special celebration was held for Elon’s first-generation community.

“There are folks that come here that need different levels of support than others. Being able to provide those levels is important, initiatives like these are important,” said Kenneth Brown ‘19, assistant director of First-Generation Student Support Services. “More and more universities are taking first-gen programs more seriously and having a space for students is important to foster community.”

National First-Generation College Celebration Day is Nov. 8, that date selected as it is the anniversary of the signing of the Higher Education Act of 1965. In celebration of this day, colleges and universities around the country host events related to the first-generation identity. As of fall 2023, there are 586 first-generation students on Elon’s campus, and all were invited to attend the First-Generation Student Celebration.

The event, held in Alumni Gym, offered first-generation students and friends a place to connect, reflect and have fun. The event started with representatives from the First-Generation Student Initiative and the First-Generation Society welcoming everyone to the gathering, which was followed by a cake-cutting ceremony. Attendees had the chance to reflect on their semesters so far on a shared reflection board, write notes of encouragement to one another, and play games such as cornhole.

Being a first-generation student comes with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. At Elon, the support system for first-generation students has been steadily growing over the past five years, with First-Generation Student Support Services getting started in 2019 as an initiative of the Center for Access and Success. In recognition of their efforts in 2021, Elon received a designation as a First-gen Forward institution.

“My first year, I really leaned on the First-Gen Initiative in the emotional aspect, everything was so confusing during COVID, so I really leaned on them,” said Delyla Makki ‘24. “I really found that there is a community amongst us, so I took the initiative to start more social events and help others be aware we are not alone.”

In 2022, Makki founded the First-Generation Society at Elon, with the goal of fostering and bringing awareness to the First-Generation student experience. Makki dedicated the spring of her sophomore year to getting the society up and running and served as the society’s first president. Two years later, after establishing by-laws and an executive board, the society boasts over 60 members.

Nicole Galant ‘19 was a first-generation student at Elon and now works in the National and International Fellowships office. Galant also serves as the staff advisor to the First-Generation Society.

“First-gens are a small but important population here,” she said. “They don’t necessarily look a certain way or come from a certain background, and it is not one size fits all when it comes to supporting them, but events like are super important for building community and making those support systems known.”

This week’s events revolve around the theme, “To Be First.” All the events center around exploration and reflection on what it means to be a first-generation college student.

Other events have been happening throughout the week to celebrate and encourage gatherings, such as a lunch and learn with first-generation faculty and staff members, a painting night with the Odyssey program, a Maker Hub takeover, and a special pop-up at College Coffee.

Maximus Garganta ‘25, is a transfer student and is the current president of the First-Generation Society. “At my old school I didn’t feel supported at all, but here at Elon because of the Society and all the support services, I do feel more supported,” he said. “The faculty here is very nice, if a faculty knows you’re first-gen, you can just see you have a connection with them right away.”

First-Generation Support Services offers a variety of advising services available to students throughout their time at Elon. They work with many campus partners such as Student Care and Outreach, Student Conduct, and Koenigsberger Learning Center to ensure students are connected with the necessary resources to thrive.

Additionally, we also provide programming throughout the year to connect students with resources and to one another.  The team also manages two support funds designed so that students can apply to assist with completing any of the five Elon Experiences and to gain access to academic resources.