As faculty adviser for Sequoyah’s First Gen Club, Marisol Pérez, the Chair of the Spanish Department and a sixth-year teacher at Sequoyah, collaborated with the club to put together care packages for first-generation alumni currently in college. Care packages, which included snacks, self-care items, and encouraging notes from current Sequoyah students, made their way to alums on February 11th so students would receive them by Valentine’s Day.
As a first-generation student, college was a big transition for Pérez, and sending care packages was one of those customs that her family didn’t know about. Seeing her classmates receive care packages and feeling bummed out about not receiving any herself, Pérez eventually told her family about the practice. Pérez’s most memorable care package was one she received from her grandmother, which was filled with homemade cookies called hojarascas. Using the same cookie-cutter she had always used and dusting them with cinnamon and sugar, Pérez’s abuelita made a batch and sent her a box of her absolute favorite cookies. Pérez explains that when she received a care package as “I just felt so loved and I just felt that instant connection with my family.” Pérez wanted Sequoyah First Gen alumni to feel that same connection and care when they received care packages from the First Gen Club.
Being a first-generation student can mean not having the guidance or the benefit of your parents’ experience when attending college. Pérez noted that being first gen at college means “Having a lot of desire to make your family proud and make good use of the opportunity that you’ve worked really hard to achieve.” Oftentimes, the transitions are difficult and there are times when you aren’t having the same experiences as your classmates. The goal of sending these care packages was to make that transition smoother. The First Gen Club is proud of its first-gen alumni and wants them to feel a sense of belonging both at college and as a part of the Sequoyah community.
On Sequoyah’s campus, the First Gen Club is a place where students feel supported as they navigate an independent school for the first time; the club also serves as a space to learn about the college application process. This year, it expanded its role to supporting first-generation alumni as they make the transition to college. In talking to the class of 2021’s first-generation student alumni, Pérez had heard about the difficulties of not being able to find a store filled with Mexican products near their colleges. As she listened, she began to envision a space that would feel good to first-generation students. Originally, the care package idea started with the seed of just sending a bag of Takis (spicy, tortilla rolled chips) to alumni. This seed expanded with the help of Elena Phleger, Director of Advancement, Monica Meñez, Director of Communication, Sarah Gossage, Communication Associate, Eileen Lee, Director of Events and Parent Engagement, Kristi Eddy, Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion, and several Latinx parents.
The First-Gen Club came up with a list of snacks that college students love, like microwave popcorn, and more culturally specific items including Spicy Korean Ramen, Tajin’s Mini Bottles, Mexican Candies, and Chocolate Abuelita. They also designed stickers with sayings like “Sí Se Puede” or “Échale Ganas,” packed conchas (a sweetened bread roll with a crunchy topping) in the shape of hearts, and crafted handwritten notes to first-gen Sequoyah alumni. They also included some self-care products like avocado face masks and travel-size tissues–items that first-generation students might forgo buying if they are watching their budgets. Pérez’s favorite memory of the enterprise was that “blistering energy” and excitement that the First-Gen Club felt in putting together care packages as they sought to bring joy to others.