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Brittany Butler Reflects on Her Journey as a First-Generation College Student

April 2018

In Her Own Words . . . 

Spelman Student Brittany ButlerI never thought I would end up at Spelman. Who would have known that I would be the first in my family to attend college and graduate from my dream school. I just remember being a young girl in the 8th grade exploring four colleges for a career pathway project. Out of those four schools, I vividly remember creating a profile on Spelman and  learning all about its recognition as a successful women’s college.

At that time, I was equally intrigued by the institution and even idealized it as my dream school. However, with all of the hardships my family was facing at home, I did not believe I would  or could attend college. At the age of 13, I was solely focused on passing my 8th grade classes, taking care of my family, and overcoming the brief depression and grief I was experiencing at the time.

The summer before I entered my first year of high school, my family lost my father in a fatal highway accident. Due to my mother's health condition, our household depended on my father. But my mother played an influential role as well. Every day, she made sure our tummies were full, and we all were neat and tidy. She nurtured and supported us wholeheartedly. Although we did not always have enough resources, my parents were determined to provide for my two younger siblings, David, Deborah, and me. My parents were only high school graduates and neither of them had the opportunity to pursue higher education.

Making Difficult Adjustments

Losing my father was hard on us. With my father's passing and my mother's disability, expenses became difficult to manage. We depended on my mother's social security income and several government assistance programs to help us meet ends financially. Both home life and school exhausted me, yet I remained faithful in focusing on my studies. I visualized my education as a getaway from the poverty and hardships my family and I were facing. I was determined to achieve these goals and make a breakthrough for my family; however, I soon encountered more significant obstacles, including the death of my mother.

Ten days after my sixteenth birthday, my mother passed away from congestive heart failure. My siblings and I were now parentless youth who were lost and unsure about the future. Being the eldest, I felt I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.

The summer after my mother’s passing, I faced more difficult situations, including my siblings and I being abandoned, neglected, and homeless. At the age of 17, I turned us into child protective services. Once we became wards of the state, the inevitable occurred: I was separated from David and Deborah.

Throughout my stay in foster care, I experienced five different placements and two different caseworkers which negatively impacted my well-being. I experienced profound feelings of pain, and often I felt unable to complete school. However, I did not give up my goal of applying to college. As a parentless teen, I graduated from high school with honors and was accepted into several schools, including my dream school -- Spelman College.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” - Proverbs 31: 25

Although I had achieved one of my significant life goals, which was getting accepted into college, I encountered tough challenges when aging out of the foster care system. When I aged out of care, I exhibited adjustment difficulties and I felt ill prepared for my adult role and the responsibilities bestowed upon me. Specifically, I felt incompetent  and doubted my ability to thrive at Spelman as a first-generation college student and former foster youth. 

Thriving Despite the Odds

Throughout my first year here at Spelman, I was consumed with doubtful thoughts that made me think I did not belong here. However, the supportive sisterhood and resources from the 1st Gen Scholar Program I gained here in the Spelman community enabled me to overcome those negative feelings and feel a true sense of belonging here on campus.

Start of QuoteI can always write about my difficult path to college as a first-generationEnd of Quote college student, but I rather leave those chronicles untold and leave written space for the successes and achievements following my path to graduate school.

I have witnessed my personal development proliferate over the past four years here at the College. While at Spelman, I gained rewarding opportunities, relationships, and connections that enhanced my academic, social, and personal development, I have worked toward self-actualization and found my real passion as a child’s advocate for at-risk youth.

Finally, through increased wisdom, commitment to service, humility, and passion for advocacy, Spelman College has impacted my overall development. I developed into the changing agent who is ready to perform advocacy work to address issues affecting the global world.

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