San Marcos,
09:51 AM

I Remember that Day: Blog from President Haynes

By Karen S. Haynes, Ph.D. | CSUSM President

It was a mix of emotions that day – partly excited, partly scared. Never before had I spent more than an overnight away from home; but there I was, the first in my family, moving into the dorms at Goucher College, an all-women’s college just outside of Baltimore, feeling homesick well-before my parents even dropped me off.

Being the first was hard. And the transition for me wasn’t easy.

Although I was an honor student in high school and often at the top of my class, my college courses challenged me in ways I didn’t anticipate. For the first time, I found myself among very smart and talented young women, many of them second- and third-generation college students, and some with grandmothers who were college-educated, which was rare in the 1960s. Most came from families of privilege. That wasn’t my story. My parents had to stretch to give me this opportunity.

I felt intimidated. I felt socially unprepared, as well as academically worried.

And I struggled through my first quarter. Yes – struggled.

I remember sitting down with my parents during a rare home visit after that first quarter with grades below my usual straight As that had previously come so easily. My father gave me an ultimatum: raise your grades or move back home to New Jersey.

That lit a fire inside me. I have always been someone who likes being faced with a challenge and meeting it. I said to myself: you can do this. After that quarter, I changed my self-talk. I befriended other first-generation students; I saw that many of my peers, even second- and third-generation college students, were also finding their footing, and that collective experience grounded me. I made sure to attend social events to deepen my new roots.

And though my homesickness persisted, I began to thrive.

Having navigated those early experiences of college as a first-generation student, I know how easy it can be to want to give up. And as I think of our very own students starting their journey, some of whom I had the privilege of meeting during move-in, I know first-hand how pivotal this moment is; it is hard, but it is also transformative, both academically and socially.

Looking back, I can now say some of those hard times are well worth it. What can feel like a world of hurt, whether it’s homesickness or struggling to achieve your personal best, can blossom into the sweetest experiences. Perseverance and support are essential.

I had no idea what challenges I would rise to and exceed. I certainly wasn’t thinking then of doctoral work and never of becoming a university president.

Whether you’re a new student, first-generation or following in the footsteps of others, or coming to college a little later in life, the lesson I learned – and the hope I have for you – is keep believing in yourself.