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First-Generation Students

Sacrifice and Hard Work

Deloris McGee Wanguri, Professor
College of Humanities & Social Sciences

I grew up in South Union, which is considered by many to be a part of Sunnyside in southeast Houston, Texas.

       I was the oldest of four children and attended Sunnyside Elementary for awhile, until Tina E. Whidby Elementary was built in South Union. I also attended Crispus Attucks Junior High School and graduated from Evan E. Worthing Senior High School. So I am a product of African American public schools in the Houston Independent School District.

       My father worked for Southern Pacific Railroad as a laborer and my mother was a housewife. Although we had limited means as a family, my mother always said that she had a “high mind”, meaning she wanted her children to do well in life. She saw to it that we were clean, that we always had breakfast, that we were well mannered, and that we went to church regularly. She even had the two oldest children to take piano lessons, even though the family had no piano. My mother went to college; my father did not.

       I graduated number three in my high school class and began as a freshman at the University of Houston (UH) in Fall 1968. This was a time of mixed experiences for me. When I first told my parents that I had been admitted to UH, they informed me that they had no money to send me to college. If student loans existed in 1968, I was unaware of them. As a result, I scanned the local newspaper, noticed an advertisement for Southwestern Bell Telephone, went to apply for a position, was hired, and began work soon thereafter as a long-distance telephone operator. I was able to live at home with my parents and to work my way through undergraduate school and pay my tuition and fees at UH. I did not apply for or receive financial aid while I was an undergraduate student at UH.

       My freshman year at UH was lots of fun. Although some students find university campuses to be intimidating, I found it exciting to be on a large college campus. I loved the atmosphere, the diversity, the independence, and the opportunities that it offered. In addition to attending classes, I pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha during my first year and I had a boyfriend who was a senior during that year. All that excitement came to an abrupt end at the conclusion of my freshman year when I received my grades for Spring 1969. Unbelievably my grade point average was 1.97. Since I needed a 2.0 to be become a member of the sorority, I was unable to become a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha and my boyfriend and I parted ways. I still find it somewhat embarrassing to acknowledge my grade point average but it proved to be a powerful reality check. I took a semester off during Fall 1969 to regroup. I worked full-time at Southwestern Bell Telephone during the day and began that semester with two evening courses. Along the way, I decided to drop one of those classes and earned an A in the English class that I kept. That semester began my transition as a university student. I began to set goals semester by semester and was soon on the Dean’s List most semesters. I really learned the importance of goal setting and using accomplished goals as stepping stones to additional achievements.

       After that transition semester I went on to get involved in a variety of student activities, including tutoring, Upward Bound, and the Baptist Student Union. Getting involved in a variety of activities helped me to find my niche at UH. Quite honestly, many of the extracurricular organizations I joined as an undergraduate complemented my studies and allowed me to meet people, to travel to places, and to have experiences that shaped me for many years after my undergraduate days. Although pledging a sorority was not the appropriate thing to do my freshman at UH, getting involved in student activities later as a junior and senior greatly enriched my undergraduate experience.

       I tell folks that some of my very best years were my years as an undergraduate student at UH. Perhaps it sounds a bit odd to hear someone who has Master’s and Ph.D. degrees express such sentiments. However I attribute these feelings to three factors. First I learned the importance of setting and achieving goals. Second I learned the importance of studying smart. Third I learned the importance of finding an extracurricular activity to complement academic studies.


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Last updated or reviewed on 9/30/14

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