Jocelyn Vega: 'My cultural identity gave me the strength to overcome several challenges as a first-generation college student.'

April 19, 2017

Jocelyn Vega

Government, Sociology, & Feminist, Gender, & Sexuality Studies

Chicago, IL

Why did you choose Cornell?

When I was in high school, I never thought college was a possibility for students like me. I was the daughter of immigrants who struggled, day in and out, to support my family. My definition of success was finding a way to support my family while developing my identity as a first-generation, low-income community member. When I was a junior in high school, I learned that I was nominated for the Posse Foundation leadership scholarship. This amazing organization competitively recruits and selects 10 students for partner colleges and universities across our nation. The Posse Foundation matched my values and goals for pursuing a higher education and future goals. I selected Cornell because I highly desired to attend a place that would not only challenge me academically but also support my development as a whole person.

What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?

When I first heard "first generation," I was a high school junior writing my personal statement with my teacher. I was confused about this new concept. I always saw myself as part of an extension of my ancestors and the sacrifices they made for future generations. Growing up, I instilled values from stories of my generational grandparents harvesting the land and the extreme poverty they overcame as a family. My childhood was surrounded by empowering family members who exhausted themselves to help the entire family advance together. I viewed myself as thread in the larger social fabric of my family and not an independent entity. My cultural identity gave me the strength to overcome several challenges as a first-generation college student and develop my own path. My identity was constantly challenged, but I emerged with a stronger understanding of myself, my culture and my sense of direction after four years at Cornell. My pride stems from my ability to now guide my cousins and community members in the same situations I once faced alone.

What do you value about your liberal arts education?

I have the highest value for a liberal arts education as I near the end of my undergraduate education. My experience engaging in the humanities across disciplines has challenged me to not only think beyond existing frameworks of thought but also to gain the ability to conceptualize theories based on lived and overlooked realities. Enrolling in humanities classes also forced me to think outside of my subject position. I started to reflect on the ground rooting the expression of my thought and values. Striving for a liberal arts education meant that I am, and always will be, capable of producing my own knowledge within a greater academic community, across space and time. After enrolling in my first humanities course, I found myself discovering my passion and curiosity filling up the room. As a junior, this was one of the first moments when I truly heard my voice at Cornell. The humanities have influenced and supported me becoming the scholar and person I knew I was meant to be. 

What are your plans for next year; where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I plan on pursuing a joint J.D. degree program where I will produce feminist legal theory research. My goal is to launch a career in improving the relations between institutional structures and distribution of power by re-evaluating legal discourse, especially in immigration law. After years in the field, I hope to become a clinical professor of law focusing on the intersection of gender, labor and immigration. I want to converge scholarship and sociopolitical contexts in conjunction with theoretical reflections to provide my future students a holistic perspective in the value of social work. My passion is to facilitate the interaction across academic disciplines and communities to expand the boundaries of established knowledge to map transformative meanings.

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