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Student POV
HIgh Stakes

by Ben Pfingston '21

Student POV High Stakes

As the youngest of four siblings and the first of them to graduate from college, I have always had to push myself to achieve my goals. Since my first semester at the University of Southern Indiana, my dream has been to be accepted into a Psychology PhD program. Because of this, my entire college experience has been high-stakes. It was pertinent for me not only to attend and graduate from university, but be highly accomplished while doing it.

Looking back, the pressure to do well in school isn’t new. I’ve always been the scholarly black sheep in my family. In elementary school, while my siblings largely occupied themselves with video games and sports, I spent much of my time reading piles of books. Moving to middle and high school, my three older siblings took primarily general education classes. I, on the other hand, found myself in all honors classes and a member of my school’s academic team. As such, my scholarly persona is how I distinguished myself from other members of my family, and I have felt obligated to keep up this image.

When it came to college, however, there was another added pressure. I’m a first-generation college student, meaning neither of my parents have four-year college degrees. Because my parents had children young, they weren’t able to attend college in their youth. My dad eventually received a two-year technical degree, but my mother was never able to graduate from a postsecondary program. While she entered college for nursing when I was in middle school, she withdrew because of her worsening disability. Seeing my mom get sicker, unable to achieve her dream of being a nurse, saddened me. I’m nearly inseparable from my mother—some would call me a “momma’s boy”—so I wanted nothing more for her than her accomplishing everything she'd desired. Witnessing my mother surrender her own dream motivated me to make my parents proud and fulfill my own goals of attending college and, eventually, graduate school.

Even with my high motivation and academic aptitude, college has not come without its fair share of struggles. Because my parents don't have college degrees, neither of them were fully prepared to assist me in the process of navigating college. Learning how to talk to professors, ask for help and find resources, and properly interact with my classmates was a battle that I initially lost more often than I won, and had to struggle with on my own.

At times, this was frustrating; I wished more than anything that my parents could fully understand how hard I was working. Additionally, the pressure to do well, compounded with my parents’ struggles to help me, elevated my stress. However, with time, I sought out faculty and staff at the University who were able to relate and assist more. With their support, college was much less daunting than it could’ve been.

Despite all of the pressure and struggles associated with my family and first generation status, I am thrilled to say I accomplished all of my goals. I graduated summa cum laude and as a University Honors Scholar, and I have been accepted into the University of Oregon’s Psychology PhD program, which I began this fall. Although I know the path ahead will contain just as much pressure and struggle as my undergraduate career, I am excited to move forward, knowing I am making my parents, siblings and community proud.

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