“I have been blessed with this privilege, and with it comes the power to make change"

November 6, 2017
Serena Armstrong, Malik Day, Sabrina Roowala, and Hemant Persaud

Almost 30 percent of University of Minnesota students (nearly 13,000) are first-generation—the first in their families to attend college. They come from all different backgrounds and places, and while their personal stories are unique, their beliefs about higher education are often the same—that it is the surest path to success.

Here are a few of their stories.

Serena Armstrong, first-year student from Buffalo, Minn., double majoring in psychology and sociology
Serena Armstrong
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Serena Armstrong loves hearing the bells near the U of M ring in the morning.

“Walking across my beautiful campus and knowing that I made it ... I am very proud to be here, and I cannot wait to see what the next four years will bring,” she says.

Armstrong says that one of the biggest challenges of getting here at all was that her mother supported four children by working multiple jobs, and so she helped with nearly every task, from tutoring to cooking.

“I have seen first hand how having, and not having, that college degree can affect your adult life,” says Armstrong.

Here at the U of M, she says, “I am learning and thinking in ways that I didn’t even know about.”

Malik Day, senior from Minneapolis, majoring in finance
Malik Day
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Malik Day wants to get into trading financial securities, he says, and upon graduation he already has an offer from Citigroup in New York.

“When I was younger, I initially did not envision attending college,” says Day. “No one in my family graduated high school, so college didn't seem possible for me.”

He says he found motivation in the movie The Pursuit of Happyness.

“I saw a man who was taking care of a family and overcoming homelessness to achieve his goals. Just like me,” says Day.

One of his most rewarding college experiences has been to bring an historical fraternity back to campus.

“I am a member of the first black fraternity founded in the MidwestKappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.which has a tremendous history of achievement,” he says. “Although I brought the chapter back by myself, now we are the biggest historically African American Greek organization on campus.”

Sabrina Roowala, graduate student from Texas, pursuing a master’s in public health
Sabrina Roowala
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Sabrina Roowala chose higher education, she says, because of her mother.

“She did not have the opportunity to gain an education, and worked extremely hard to ensure that my siblings and I had whatever we needed to succeed,” says Roowala.

Roowala believes her experience in the U’s top-ranked public health program will give her the knowledge and skills she needs to give back.

After graduating, Roowala would like to become engaged with a nonprofit that works on mental health in Muslim-American populations.

“I have been blessed with this privilege, and with it comes the power to make change,” she says.

Hemant Persaud, junior honors student from Guyana, majoring in French studies
Hemant Persaud
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“I see education as a foundation to begin changing the future,” says Hemant Persaud.

He’s changing that future here at the U of M—his dream college, he says.

“It's a Big Ten school with a small-knit community feeling,” he explains. “You get the best of every world here. It's home, and it has everything I want.”

Persaud says that his inspiration to go to college stems partly from his immigrant status.

“I am a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals student,” he says. “I chose to go to college because I recognize that I have privilege that others do not.”

About his DACA status, he says, “I try not to let my status define me. There are many barriers to get through, and I go through the barriers ... Let me earn it, and then let me have it.”

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First-generation students include U of M President Eric Kaler.
Explore more of their stories >