1stGenYale conference builds sense of community, closer ties to Yale
Being a first-generation or low-income student can be challenging, confusing, and oftentimes overwhelming. But the rewards are immense, and the community you join welcomes you with open arms — and with a network that will support you for years to come.
Those were just a few of the messages stressed during the 1stGenYale Conference “Blazing the Trail: Being the First,” held this past weekend at the School of Management. In all, more than 120 Yale alumni — predominantly those who were the first in their families to go to college or graduate school, or who came from underserved communities — attended the all-day event.
The conference marked the first time many of those gathered had returned to Yale since graduation. They represented a wide variety of schools and years, from the Yale College Class of 1966 to the Graduate School Class of 2017, and they came from a number of different professions and places. Among the attendees were artists, bankers, entrepreneurs, health professionals, lawyers, and professionals in nonprofit and public service from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Oklahoma, and up and down the eastern seaboard.
“The issue of first-generation students is very near and dear to my heart [since] when I was an undergraduate at Yale, I was involved in some activism around this work,” said Alex Nava ’13. “I could not miss this conference. I flew out from L.A. and am so, so happy that I did. It has been an inspiring and amazing conference.”
Speakers who shared their own personal journeys of “being first” during the conference included Marta Moret ’84 M.P.H., president of Urban Strategies and Yale’s first lady; Peggy Kuo '85, U.S. magistrate judge for the eastern district of New York; and David A. Thomas ’78, ’84 M.A., ’86 Ph.D., president of Morehouse College.
In addition to the keynote addresses, there were also a series of breakout sessions, starting with two led by Yale faculty – Luis Aňez on the “Imposter Syndrome” and Camille Lizarrỉbar on “Navigating Two Worlds” — and career panels featuring upwards of 20 returnees that focused on connecting with alumni peers and overcoming professional challenges.
To cap the day session, alumni and 120 students from across campus joined together for the student panel, “Campus Life Today Being First.” Corporate and nonprofit sponsors held recruiting opportunities for both students and alumni in the afternoon.
“This conference was a true team effort,” said event organizer and 1stGenYale co-chair Lise Chapman ’81 M.B.A,. “shared by both volunteers and participants of diverse, intergenerational alumni from all cultural, ethnic, racial, and gender backgrounds – all of whom share a positive vision to give back and make a difference for fellow alumni and the next generation.”
The day wrapped up with a reception highlighted by President Peter Salovey ’86 Ph.D. welcoming those in attendance and sharing what the university is doing to support first-generation and underserved students. He introduced Thomas, the evening’s keynote speaker, who encouraged students and alumni alike to always stay true to themselves and remindede them that “excellence is a habit” they should practice every day.
Net proceeds from the conference — which was funded by corporate and nonprofit organizations, alumni, the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA), and several university departments — will go to the new Yale College Dean’s Student Assistance Fund to help students with unexpected needs or emergencies.
“It was absolutely amazing to see so many alumni come together to celebrate our accomplishments, our diversity, and our shared histories,” said 1stGenYale co-chair Magda Vergara ’82. “This conference provided much-needed space for alumni to connect, be recognized and feel welcomed back at Yale.”
Added Chapman: “We came together to celebrate – to celebrate our diverse backgrounds, our common experiences, and that we all belong as members of the Yale family. And we look forward to growing 1stGenYale to serve even more first-generation Yalies in the coming years.”
1stGenYale is a shared interest group under the umbrella of the AYA.