This month we dove in deeper with our staff member Marcel. We heard more about his background, how his journey led him to First Graduate, and how his life experiences have helped him help the next generation of first-generation college graduates.

Marcel’s Story

Growing up in San Francisco exposed Marcel to a diverse population from a young age, teaching him how to connect to people from all cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups.

Path to college

Like all First Graduate® alums, Marcel was the first in his family to go to college. His mother taught him the importance of hard work and pushed him to pursue academics and strive for excellence.

Once in high school, Marcel decided he really wanted to go to college. So he joined a program called Summer Fun, which helped him get into a six-week program at Syracuse University. There he got to stay on campus and take college courses for credit.

The program also helped him apply for colleges and find financial aid. As a result, he was accepted into Saint John’s University in New York City.


Getting into college wasn’t the end of the story for Marcel. Although he had received scholarships, they didn’t cover all costs for a private university, especially one in NYC. So he had to take out loans.

After a year and a half, Marcel made the difficult decision to move back to San Francisco to save money. He attended community college and eventually transferred to San Jose State University.

Leaving the prestigious private university was a blow to Marcel. But he learned from the experience and turned it into something positive. For one, he was able to ensure that his new university actually covered all his financial needs. And for another, the experience allowed him to fully understand the challenges that first-generation students face.

Career Path

In his last college semester, Marcel started working at a middle school after-school program called Think Together. That was when he discovered his love of working with that age group.

After graduating, he worked at the YMCA as a case manager for a high school, which gave him more experience working with families alongside their children. He then did a brief stint as an elementary school teacher at a school in San Jose (and quickly realized teaching wasn’t for him).

Experience at First Graduate

The teaching experiment led Marcel to First Graduate. He applied in 2016 and was hired. Only a few short days later, he started working in the summer program. He spent time with the students five days a week, created a curriculum, organized lesson plans, and coordinated logistics. He also had the opportunity to meet the students’ families and learn more about their goals.

Marcel connected with the rest of the staff and saw first-hand how hard-working and dedicated they were.

While it was overwhelming, the summer program gave Marcel the confidence that he was in the right place. 

Now six and a half years later, Marcel is in a management role and is excited to continue to grow within the organization.

Marcel’s Advice to the Next Generation

Marcel credits a lot of his success to consistently pushing himself out of his comfort zone and keeping himself open to new opportunities. He also emphasized the value of making authentic connections with people and having a support system. 

Marcel acknowledges the social challenges and obstacles that face first-generation college students. But he wants to impress on students how important each of them is. And no matter what the culture tells them, their contribution is essential.

“The world needs your ideas. They need your experiences. We need that. We need all the culture you bring, the difference with how you grew up. Our world desperately needs that. So you should be proud of all these experiences that you have. And you should understand that we need those things and we want those things in our world.”

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