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President's Letter

A note on the Mission of First Generation Harvard Alumni by our President, Kevin Jennings '85.

I remember the day in September of 1981 when my brother and I drove up to Weld Hall in Harvard Yard, where I was to live my freshman year.  I was a history nut (I would major in it at Harvard) and had read works like Jacob Riis' How the Other Half Lives, with its stories of the dilapidated housing and tremendous privations suffered by those who lived in big Northern cities, places so different than the rural Southern town where I spent most of my childhood that they seemed like foreign countries to me.  Having never been to a big Northern city before, I didn’t have much of a mental image of them, but I knew what I was looking at when I saw Weld Hall, so I turned to my brother and said “This must be one of those tenement houses I’ve read about.”

For those of us who come to Cambridge from families without a history of college graduates in previous generations, what we see and encounter at Harvard can often be confusing and troubling, as well as enlightening and empowering.  In many ways my experience at Harvard was a dream come true: it was the first place I had ever been where being smart was celebrated, not scorned, and I thrived in the challenging academic culture I found there.  I also at times felt hugely out of place and could have used someone to explain the new world in which I found myself.  That’s why I founded First Generation Harvard Alumni in 2012.

As an officially-recognized Shared Interest Group of the Harvard Alumni Association, our mission is to help make Harvard a better place for current First Generation Harvard students.  We do this through mentoring, advocacy, and providing networking opportunities.  Thanks to the generosity of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative, First Generation students make up a substantial portion of today’s undergraduate student body (estimates run as high as 18%).  We hope to help make Harvard a welcoming place for them.

I’ve come a long way since 1981, and so has Harvard.  I thank you for your interest in helping to make it an even better place in the future that it is today.
Kevin Jennings '85

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