Main menu


Knox Honors First-Generation Graduates of the Class of 2022

“College was a mystery to me back then,” said Owen Hamlin, a creative writing major, reflecting back on their first year at Knox. “The only thing we expected was that we were supposed to have a degree in four years.” Like nearly 60 other students graduating in 2022, Hamlin is a first generation college graduate, the first in their family to graduate with a college degree.

On Saturday, June 4, Knox College held its 7th annual First-Generation Reception, recognizing the unique challenges and successes of graduating seniors who are the first in their family to complete a college degree. Tianna Cervantez, lecturer in anthropology-sociology and associate dean/director of intercultural life, addressed the audience, speaking to her own experience as a first generation Knox College student, noting that she “learnned how to navigate new spaces,” without the same kind of support system her second-generation peers had.

In their joint speech, Hamlin and Dwight Bejlovec also remarked on their struggle with feelings of confusion over their place in the Knox community, especially at the beginning of their college experience. Bejlovec would wonder out loud in class how he got admitted into Knox, and had to be reminded by his first-year instructors that his admission was earned, not gifted. “There was a lot we learned back then,” Bejlovec added, “especially that we deserved it.” Bejlovec and Hamlin are both SPARK mentors and creative writing majors (Hamlin also earned a minor in English literature, while Bejlovec pursued a film studies minor).

President Andy McGadney acknowledged the network of family, friends, Knox staff and faculty, high school counselors, and mentors who supported each first generation student at Knox, from their first year through graduation. “Education is something no one can take away from you,” McGadney said in his opening remarks, but added that “it takes a village.”

Many of the attendees for the reception were part of that “village.” Alex Martin, a creative writing major from Round Rock, Texas, was accompanied by her mother, Virginia Pursley Martin, and grandmother, Carolyn Pursley. “She always had her nose in a book,” Pursley said of her granddaughter. For Martin, a “stray email from Knox” sparked an interest in the College, followed by strong scholarship opportunities and the creative writing program.

Domanique Rahman and Leonard Monterey, both 2019 first-generation Knox graduates now living and working in Chicago, returned to campus to see their friend Himani Patel graduate. They spoke glowingly of Patel, who is now headed to dental school. “She deserves all the support she gets,” said Monterey. Monterey recalled his high school counselor, who seriously recommended Knox to him, even though he was considering larger public Illinois universities. A resident assistant during his time at Knox, Monterey now serves as a resident director at the University of Illinois.

Rahman, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, visited campus as a high school student and sensed a unique vibe that confirmed Knox was the right choice for him. He now divides his time after college between working at a staffing and recruiting firm and working as an independent filmmaker. When asked what advice he would give to incoming first-generation students, Rahman said, “Associate yourself with people you like, who will support you.”

In his closing remarks, Michael Schneider, provost and dean of the College, reminded students that they will always remain part of the Knox community. “You are crossing over from one experience to the next, not leaving,” he said.