My wife is about 2 weeks away from officially earning her Masters’ degree. I’m incredibly proud of her. She’s going to be more edumacated than me.
When, in some written correspondence, my wife described herself as a “first-generation graduate,” her mother got snippy and felt the need to point out that while neither she (my wife’s mom) nor her husband had graduated college, my wife’s grandmother had indeed earned a Bachelor’s degree.
Now, we were both aware of this. However, I was under the impression that once a generation “skips” college, the next generation is the “first-generation” of college graduates once again. In short, my feeling is that my wife’s use of the term is accurate, because neither of her parents attended college or earned a degree.
I, on the other hand, cannot lay claim to the phrase because, while my own mom never earned a degree, my father did. So I would be a “second-generation” college graduate (none of my grandparents earned a degree to my knowledge).
There’s almost certainly some sour grapes and/or jealousy involved in my mother-in-law’s response to my wife. She seems to have a hard time when her kids are more successful than she. However, just on a factual basis, do you feel that my wife’s use of “first-generation graduate” is appropriate? If not, when is it appropriate to use that term?
The only alternatives to “first-generation graduate” would be “second-generation graduate” or “third-generation graduate”.
“Second” implies that one of her parents graduated from college, which is not the case. “Third” implies parents and grandparents, which is also not the case. So I really can’t see any viable alternative to “first-generation graduate” that isn’t misleading.
Since labeling it that way implies that she’s the first in her family to earn a degree, which she isn’t, I wouldn’t use it to describe her with out being more specific as Tomndebb suggested. OTOH, I’ve never heard anyone say anything about it beyond that- no second or third generation, or skipping rules- since most people don’t seem to keep track of that sort of thing. It’s only a point of more notable pride, that I’ve seen, when it’s the first person in the family. YMMV
As others have pointed out, it’s not technically accurate, but none of the alternatives works, either. But this discussion raises another issue in my mind: what relevant information does this phrase convey to anyone else? In other words, why would your wife feel the need to bring it up in the first place?
The phrase says to me that she is the first generation to obtain a degree. I would make the assumption that none of her parents or grandparents had degrees.
I feel that it is, or could be, misleading. Also it sounds a little like meaningless bragging. Why do people need to know that your wife’s Mother and Father did not graduate? Surely the important point is that she did graduate.
For those who are asking, it could be relevant (if she was the first ever) to convey that she overcame hardships/poverty/illiteracy/etc. in order to be the first ever in her family to successfully graduate. This information could be a source of pride for her family/village/people/etc. and a source of hope and inspiration to those in similar underprivileged situations.
Speaking as someone who works in higher ed, and on occasion gets paid to think about things like “what are the unique needs of our first-generation population and how can we, as an institution, be more responsive?”, the term is used to mean first generation EVER. At least around here. Obviously, your wife can call herself anything she wants. But my professional definition is the same as your MIL’s.
Thanks to Joe Random, Skogcat, and delphica for some reasonable answers. I do see what you mean about it being misleading, but it is a point of pride for my wife that she earned this degree despite her difficult origins and pretty much a lack of any meaningful support from her parents.
For those who characterize my wife’s statement as “meaningless bragging” (or, for Nametag, a “slap in the face” to her grandmother), you can step back from your pedestal for a moment. My wife is not trying to brag. If I might offer some context (lacking from my OP), the phrase “first-generation graduate” was placed in her biography as part of her final portfolio documents. She thought the phrase was an appropriate descriptor, since neither her mother or father graduated, so she used it.
Basically, while there is some pride inherent in the statement (and, I think, justifiably so) it is certainly not “bragging” nor is it a “slap in the face” to anyone. I didn’t expect to have to defend my wife by asking for an interpretation of a few words, but trust me, she’s the last person in the world to brag. While she is certainly proud of her acheivement, she’s not stomping on anyone else. The whole reason I raised this question was because she became concerned that the phrase was inappropriate.
So, again, thanks to those who gave substantive responses. I think that the point that the phrase is misleading, in this case, is a valid one, and I will pass it along to her.
But, Avalonian, it clearly came off that way to several people. Sometimes the words we use carry a subtext that we are unaware of. Shouldn’t we try to gauge the emotional impact of those words, rather than simply worry if they are technically correct?
I had never heard the phrase “first-generation graduate” before your OP, and I’ve got to say it had the same effect on me. Although I can see the intent , as xash mentions, of implying obstacles and adversities overcome, it carries a clear subtext of “better than my parents and grandparents”, which I found mildly offensive. I wholeheartedly believe you that it was not meant that way, but perhaps a different turn of phrase would have been best, as this one evokes a negative reaction in some of those who hear it.
In any event, congratulations to MrsAvalonian on a remarkable achievement.
From a non-us perspective I would have assumed it meant the first graduates of a new course. For example, the school I went to had been put out 4 graduating classes before I arrived. I would have assumed first generation to be the people who were the first ones to graduate the course.
Given your explainations, I would then assume it was the first person in the family ever to graduate college.
Which was exactly why I opened this topic. And I appreciate substantive responses to it, but the confrontational accusations (a la Nametag’s post) seemed out of line. Posters like that one made assumptions based on next to nothing.
So, yes, I started this topic because she became concerned about the use of the phrase. I didn’t expect to have my wife’s motives insulted in the way that some posters (not you) have done.
She humbly thanks you. She’d do so herself, but she’s busy finishing things off.
On the other hand: If, by “first generation graduate”, you mean that no other ancestors, ever, had a college education, how far back do you go? A person has an awful lot of ancestors, and even if your family has been backwater hicks for the past 200 years, it’s still pretty likely that you’ve got a college graduate somewhere in your family tree.
As someone who works in higher ed, let me be another voice to say that the term “first-generation” is very meaningful to the scholarly community. It is not seen as bragging or boasting, or putting down one’s forbears. There is actually an interesting body of research on first-generation college students and college graduates, and faculty members, and so on. “First-generation” folk have a different time of it. Different challenges and expectations and familial support.
I think it’s meaningful that her parents did not earn degrees, but I don’t think the term quite applies to her. I think I recently read something about grandparents’ education level being a very meaningful indicator in college access, although I can barely recall it.
I interviewed for a job (which I didn’t get) in an agency that helps high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds become first-generation college students. The way this was explained to me was that they would be “the first person in their family” to go to college.
IMO, if grandma went to college, then “first-generation” does not apply. Probably better to leave the whole “generation” thing out entierely.
Neither accurate nor appropriate. If granny has a bachelor’s, referring to oneself as a “first-generation” graduate makes no sense and can only offend members of your family.
If your wife wants to refer to herself as a “first-generation postgraduate”, that could work, assuming a bachelor’s is the highest any ancestor of her’s ever got.
But why mention it at all? If a parent was referring to his/her child as a graduate, it may indicate justifiable pride (“I got no edumacation, but I made sure my kid did!”) but a child who unilaterally uses the label for herself sounds kinda smug and bratty.