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Knox Honors the Class of 2021's First-Generation Graduates

Students wear masks while posing for a photo outside the steps of Alumni Hall

For first-generation students, earning a college degree represents success—and not just for themselves. That was the message from Matrice Marie Young ’21, the featured student speaker at Knox College’s First Generation Reception for members of the Class of 2021.

“This graduation is a physical manifestation of our accomplishments,” said Young, a creative writing major who is heading to a graduate program in library and information sciences at the University of Iowa. “This degree, this ceremony is proof that we can make it, that our families can make it and have made it, through us. As first-generation students, we carry so much on our backs: hopes and dreams, aspirations of our families and ancestors.”

Young noted that her parents started college but couldn’t finish. She said her Knox degree is proof of their hard work and their dreams of a better life for her. 

But the road for her and her Knox classmates hasn’t been a smooth one. The past two years, especially, have been “terrifyingly hard,” she said. “And yet, here we are. No matter what our next steps are, we’ve accomplished and completed one chapter of our lives, and we are moving on to our next. And I’m proud of you, each and every single one of you, and you should be proud of yourselves. We made it, and our families will have this legacy with them moving forward.”

Knox’s Commencement festivities traditionally include a special ceremony to recognize thosee graduating seniors who are among the first generation of their families to earn college degrees. The 2021 ceremony took place June 4 on the South Lawn of Old Main because of COVID-related safety precautions.

President Teresa Amott welcomed the students and their families, informing the audience that 65 members of the Knox Class of 2021 are first-generation. “What a remarkable, extraordinary achievement. You have given us so many reasons to be proud today,” she said. “Thank you for the four years of hard work, of determination, of just pushing through everything you had to face.”

The event’s featured faculty speaker, Philip Sidney Post Professor of Chemistry Mary Crawford, is a 1989 Knox graduate who was also a first-generation student.

“I’m so proud of you,” Crawford said to the graduating seniors. “My journey was probably a lot like yours.”

She described how, as an 18-year-old, she flew from Houston, Texas, to Galesburg for a visit to Knox College that “would forever change my life.” As part of the visit, she sat in on a general chemistry class taught by Professor Bob Kooser, who spoke with her afterward and took her on a tour of the chemistry department. He told her if she came to Knox, she could work in his lab on an instrument called an electron spin resonance machine. “At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about, and yet I believed him,” Crawford said, recalling how he became an important mentor for her. 

Crawford offered some parting words of advice to the Class of 2021. “Every experience in your life, good or bad, provides a lesson. Sometimes, you don’t understand the lesson right away,” she said. “Failures are just life lessons that teach you so much more than you’ll ever learn from your successes. Don’t be afraid to fail because it’s the most important part of your glorious journey.”

(Photo at the top of the page: First-generation students in the Class of 2021 pose on the steps of Alumni Hall. Photos below: Matrice Marie Young ’21 speaks as Knox Provost Michael Schneider is seated at right; Professor Mary Crawford ’89 speaks at the First Generation Reception.)

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Printed on Wednesday, July 28, 2021