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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

University Recognizes First-Generation College Students in Inaugural Pinning Ceremony

By Betsy Hnath

Graduation from college is a major accomplishment for anyone. But for first-generation college students, graduation means a shift in the trajectory for an entire family.

In recognition of first-generation college students slated to graduate in May, Old Dominion held its inaugural "pinning ceremony" on April 11. After a brief reception, students received University pins from members of the ODU faculty and staff who themselves had been first-generation students.

Ellen Neufeldt, vice president for student engagement and enrollment services, expressed her admiration for the students. She recognized that they, unlike others, had no established matriculation path from prior generations to follow.

"Everything you're doing, you're learning on your own; you're making it happen on your own, and you're making a difference," Neufeldt said. "Congratulations on what you've accomplished, but more on what you'll go on to do and the impact you'll make on your family and those who'll follow you."

Neufeldt also emphasized the importance of establishing a new pattern for future generations.

"By being the first in your family to graduate, you're not only changing your life, you're setting an example for those who will follow," she said. "And when you go on to work or to serve, you will continue to change the lives of those in your community, too."

First-generation student Dina Zecevic thinks her mom might be even more excited about her graduation than she is.

"I owe a lot of my experience to her," the communication major said.

Zecevic transferred to ODU after two years at Tidewater Community College and lived at home in Norfolk. Her only regret is missing out on the "traditional" college experience.

"It didn't feel like a huge transition to ODU because I lived at home," she said. "I wish I'd lived on campus and joined a sorority."

Zecevic would love to stay another year at Old Dominion, but is looking for an internship.

As a first-generation college student, Melvisha Hathaway understands the importance of graduating from college.

"I can't say I necessarily feel pressure, but I do want to make my family proud since I am the first one to have this accomplishment," she said.

Hathaway, a double major in psychology and human services, found that being the first also came with some drawbacks.

"While my family is supportive, they may not always understand what I go through as a student," she said. "But they do support me. I loved my experience at the University."

Her future includes an internship with Chesapeake Integrative Behavioral Healthcare working with individuals with intellectual disabilities.

"After that, I plan to take a break from school," she said. "But I'd love to come back to ODU to get my master's."

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