I don’t know where 9-year-old me got the Pacific Lutheran University shirt pictured in this grainy photograph of my visit to a petting zoo in Calgary, Alberta. That little boy from Whitefish, Montana, would not step foot on the private college campus for the better part of a decade after the photo was taken — and private school in general seemed unlikely.
Still, as far as my parents were concerned, college was never an “if;” it was a “where?”
My mom always wanted to pursue a degree. A teenage pregnancy and four children delayed her plans.
Although our parents never went to college before us, they worked hard to ensure we did not go without. That included my dad’s late nights in the garage, rebuilding the engine in my ’62 Chevrolet Impala. I needed to sell the car to pay for tuition, and the long hours running his tire shop did not stop him from coming home and getting more grease on his hands.
So, my three siblings and I were first in our family to graduate college. Of the four, I am the only lucky one who calls PLU his alma mater.
I am lucky because PLU has a tradition of welcoming, supporting and celebrating first-generation college students. Their narratives weren’t always at the forefront, but in my time serving as chair of the Board of Regents, it is clear that PLU is committed to speaking the language and building a community around students treading new ground.
The university boasts a campus concentrated with staff and faculty who share stories similar to mine — offering representation for first-in-the-family Lutes who are products of their past, an aggregate of the advantages and the adversity that accompany their experiences.
This edition of ResoLute celebrates the value of first-generation alumni, students, faculty and staff — those who come from families with parents who did not graduate from four-year, degree-granting institutions in the U.S.
The stories not only highlight the challenges, but also the successes of this ever-growing contingent of Lutes. They also capture the shared experiences, as well as the not-so-shared experiences, that make up this diverse population. Perhaps I am the only one who learned to rebuild a car engine to cover tuition. Perhaps not.
As a student at PLU, I never heard the terms “first-generation student” or “first in the family,” and I never realized I was different beyond my lower-income status. What I did know — like others who share my experience — was that I had been given an opportunity and it was up to me to capitalize on it.
I do not believe I am a self-made man. I believe I am a product of my environment, and my parents and the people around me contributed to my story. My environment was driven by hard-working parents who wanted us to have what they did not.
And we did.
Around the time I was graduating from PLU, my mom got to experience the first-gen feeling, too. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Montana.
I may have had a bit of a chip on my shoulder as a young college student who faced challenges different than some of my peers at PLU, but the pride I have in myself, my siblings, my mother — and all who share in the first-gen experience — is something I would not trade for anything.
That pride shines through this magazine. And, as a passionate advocate for future first-in-the-family students, I am excited for the stories that have yet to be shared.
Ed Grogan ’93
Chair of the Board of Regents