DENVER — Hassan Mustefa is a senior studying business administration at the University of Colorado – Denver. 

He and his sisters represent the first generation in his family to go to college. Both of their parents did not go to high school and left Ethiopia thirty years ago to find a better life for their kids. 

Mustefa said he’s thankful for National First-Generation College Student Day because it gives students like him a voice that’s sometimes not heard. He also said he's thankful for organizations like Denver Scholarship Foundation that make college possible for first-generation students.

He spoke to 9NEWS about his experience. (Editor's note: Responses may have been edited for context and clarity.)

National First-Generation Student Day
Byron Reed

9NEWS: Why did you choose to CU Denver?

Mustefa: I was actually planning on going to college at (The University of Denver) but DU was really expensive and I could not afford it so I was going to have the military help me out with that… this wasn’t my first choice, but it’s been nothing but a blessing since I came here.

Why did your parents move here from Ethiopia?

They came to the U.S. for a better life…something that we use within our family is something called “Tesfa”…it’s in Ethiopian language and it means hope. Within my family we don’t believe in luck, we believe in hope (and) that’s what got my parents to the U.S. when they came here, they came for a better life for my sisters and I.

What don’t people know about First-Generation college students?

I think people know it’s not easy but what they don’t know is that we don’t have as much help as people think that we do. Whether that be applying for financial aid or applying for college, my parents, they didn’t understand how to do these things so I had to figure it out (so) I had to go that extra mile to be able to find these resources for myself.

What’s the biggest misperception of First-Generation Students?

A lot of people think first-generation students don’t struggle as much as we do. We’re not able to just go to class and go home...we go to class and we have to go home and take care of family. We work full-time jobs all the time and a lot of people think that being able to manage all this and be able to manage a social life is easy but it’s not.

What is the driving force behind being part of the first generation in your family to graduate with a college degree?

It’s more or less not for myself, but for my parents so that day when I cross that stage. It’s going to be a great day because that’s the day I’ve been working for and just really just give it all to my parents. They gave up their whole life, they gave up everything they had back in Ethiopia just to come here and give me and my sisters a better life. 

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