As a first-generation college student from a low-income family, I felt inferior when navigating the chasms and paradoxes of Georgetown’s campus. This feeling did not stem from any comparison I attempted to make with other Georgetown students. Rather, something more powerful strained my mind. As I talked more with fellow low-income, first-generation students, I realized these thoughts were not isolated.

This sense of inferiority stems from the feeling that I have not — and will never —  sacrifice and persevere as my family has so that I could attend Georgetown.

After all, how can I ever validate my mother’s hard work for me? She worked three jobs at once simply to put a roof over my head, food on my plate and clothes on my back. My stress from late nights spent studying does not compare to the many sleepless nights she had working at a retirement home. The dread of my early mornings is trivial given that she calls me every morning, even though she is three hours behind Eastern Standard Time. Certainly, I cannot match the hard work of a woman who does not visit the doctor because she believes such a visit is an impairment to her ability to provide for her family.

I could also never live up to the sacrifices my father has made for me. After all, he had to live amid the fear of a post-9/11 world, in which every brown man was deemed an enemy of the state. Here is someone who sacrificed his own dreams of upward mobility in India, a land where he was so comfortable, so that his children would have a secure future full of opportunities. In fact, upon arriving to America, he worked so much that he rarely got a chance to see his son grow up.

The typical American experience — going to movie theaters, restaurants and professional sporting events — was not available to my father. He believed his money was best spent on his children’s futures. I question how I could ever sacrifice like that, because such sacrifices seem otherworldly.   

The most astonishing part of my familial narrative is its paradox: This seemingly personal task of validating my guardians’ struggles resonates strongly with many students in the Georgetown Scholarship Program. Throughout our Georgetown experience, we talk about how lucky we are to have people who sacrificed life and limb for us and how we would not be at Georgetown without them. At the same time, we fear we have not done enough to justify these sacrifices.

This “badge of inferiority” — the feeling that our accomplishments do not do our guardians’ sacrifices justice — is what I believe most represents being a GSP student. Undoubtedly, GSP students face a plethora of identity-specific challenges.

Material deprivations aside, we have to overcome years of substandard education. We are surrounded by classmates who seem often oblivious to our struggles, never having understood the feeling of not being able to travel abroad or never having viewed a restaurant dinner as frivolous. These challenges undoubtedly arise and dissipate during the semester.

Yet, the unavoidable acknowledgement of our families’ struggle and sacrifice is, for many of us, omnipresent. It stings with every poor grade, despite how hard we studied. It afflicts us when we look in the mirror and see luxury goods many of our ancestors could not afford. It plagues us when we talk with family members back home and realize they are still sacrificing and struggling, and we are too distant — and perhaps too powerless — to ameliorate their troubles.

Yet, Georgetown has afforded me and other GSP students the opportunity to pay our guardians back for their sacrifices. Whether we are striving to attain a financially secure job to provide for our mothers, learning the intricacies of law to represent an immigrant guardian or simply standing resilient in the face of difficulty to attain a higher education, the internal pressure to validate our guardians’ struggles has been a driving force for many GSP students.

The weight on GSP students’ shoulders has a beauty to it — a beauty that has defined our journeys at Georgetown and has given us a purpose bigger than ourselves.

This mission to validate my guardians’ struggles is central to my identity. As much as this inferiority complex besieges me, it also motivates me. I am indelibly indebted to my family members for the pain they have incurred. Since they have endured everything, I can endure anything.

Hashwinder Singh is a sophomore in the College. Proud to Be GSP appears online every other Tuesday.

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2 Comments

  1. Beth Harlan, Cawley Career Education Center says:

    I read your article this morning, Hashwinder, and wanted to thank you for writing it. It’s beautifully written and gives powerful voice to an experience that resonates with many students I’ve worked with at the Career Center as they’re trying to figure out next steps while considering/honoring/supporting family and others who helped them get here.

  2. Mayesha Awal says:

    Reading this article makes me reflect on my own experience. As a GSP student, I have also been burdened by that expectation I have set for myself in order to make my hard-working mother proud. My mother singlehandedly raised my sister and me and worked diligently for the best of her daughters. Although I do agree with emulating the struggle of our parents, sometimes our parents may set expectations for us that we may have to reflect whether it is for the best of us. For instance, my mother has wanted me to follow the path of medicine or a hard science. However, when I decided to change my major, she was heartbroken. I kept on delaying the change until this semester when I realized that sticking with a premed and biochem path was not for me. I believe that, as you had said, I must also validate the struggle of my mother as well, but not allowing it to completely overtake my passions and aspirations.

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