‘Something I didn’t get to do.’ Emotions run high for first-generation students and families at Northeastern commencement

Kiera Perryman on ISEC Pedestrian Bridge
Kiera Perryman. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Jamelle Texeria put his own college plans on hold with the birth of his daughter Kiera Perryman. He says that makes watching her walk across the stage as a first-generation college student graduating from Northeastern University extra emotional.

“Watching her walk across the stage and get the degree…” Texeria said, trying hard to fight back tears.

“The key word being ‘try,’” Texeria said. “I didn’t get a chance to finish.”

As graduates received their diplomas Sunday, they celebrated their hard work, sacrifice and dedication. Their families also put in hard work, sacrificed and dedicated themselves to a Northeastern education, and are rightly celebrating as well. One demographic is particularly emotional: families of first-generation students. 

“It was very tough, it wasn’t for me,” said Lata Agrawal, mother of first-generation master’s degree student Sukriti Agrawal. “But we took the chance and it’s good. Everybody should take a chance in life.”

First-generation students, or students whose parent(s) did not graduate college, wore gold stoles outlined in black along with a cap and gown for commencement ceremonies. First-generation students and graduates are represented in every college and school at Northeastern, including the School of Law, according to Naomi Boase, director of the Center for Intercultural Engagement, which hosted a celebration for first-generation students and their families. Perryman and Tyreke Gaston, a fellow 2023 graduate, founded First-Gen, which support students and holds events at Northeastern. 

For these students and their families, commencement was the latest in a series of new experiences associated with higher education. 

Many of these experiences weren’t easy.

“I had so many reservations but I had to keep my promise, he had done so well in school,” said Taqdees Khan, mother of Yousuf Khan, who earned a combined degree in computer engineering and computer science.

Lata Agrawal likewise had reservations. Graduate school was a big investment. Lata would be living alone for the first time, having raised Sukriti as a single mother. And then there were the unknowns that Lata—living half a world away in India—imagined could happen in an unfamiliar country, unfamiliar city and an unfamiliar school. 

Tiffany Gaston, older sister of Tyreke could relate. Their home in Baltimore seemed very different and very far from Boston, she says. 

“There’s nobody to say here’s what you’re to be prepared for,” Tyreke said.

Moreover, Tyreke’s mother was very ill for much of his life. She passed away late last year. 

“I’m the one who would get the phone call about ‘should I do that,’” Tyreke’s uncle Kenneth Gaston said.

But Tiffany says the calls became shorter over the course of her brother’s time at Northeastern.

“He’d say, ‘call back, I’m busy,’” Tiffany said. After attending the First-Gen celebration on Friday, she could see why. “Now I understand. He’s always busy.”

But the difficulties the graduates experienced as first-generation students makes their commencement even more special.

“I’m very proud of him, I (feel) very accomplished,”said Khan, as her son Yousuf smiled broadly. “I see him growing every day.”

Tiffany Gaston concurred.

“He did something I didn’t get to do, so I’m very proud,” Tiffany Gaston said.

For Lata Agrawal, the worries were worth it.

“I recommend that every child … must come out of the box and search for new heights,” Lata said. “They learn to face difficult problems and difficult phases in life. It is a learning phase I think.”

Even for parents or family members who couldn’t attend this week’s festivities, the pride is evident.
“My father was so proud that his son is studying in America,” Graduate Lakshya Chaudhary said. “(My parents) will be full of emotions: they might be crying a lot; they will be feeling they wish they could be with me here. … It will be their craziest and proudest moment.”

Meanwhile, Kenneth Gaston said that Tyreke’s late mother would be “in her glory” watching her son receive his degree.

“She was just so excited” for his graduation, Kenneth Gaston said. “Her eyes would be just sparkling,” she’d say ‘that’s my son, that’s my Tyreke.’”

Cyrus Moulton is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at c.moulton@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @MoultonCyrus.