Overcoming the Odds as a First-Generation College Student: Kaley’s Story




Our student-led Maxwell Gray Film Fellowship program released a new short film telling the story of Kaley, a first-generation student attending the University of Michigan. Like others in her position, Kaley felt immense pressure to succeed when transitioning to this new environment. 

The college experience is difficult for many, but for first-generation students like Kaley, this time can be uniquely challenging without a support system that understands this experience. Navigating this process alone can be exhausting and disheartening. Kaley felt lost, and, as a result, her mental health began to decline. 

“I was having breakdowns in between classes… while driving home. I joked that every bench at U-M had seen my tears. This was when I ended up deciding that I needed help.”

Fortunately, Kaley was able to find support. She sought out the help of a trusted professor at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), where she shared some struggles that were weighing her down. The session helped her find validation and gave her actionable tools for better stress management. 

By taking the time to prioritize her well-being, her mental health improved. Eventually, she built a community where she felt accepted and supported. Kaley relied on those closest to her for emotional support as she found different ways to manage her stress and anxiety more effectively. Through campus-provided resources like CAPS and the First-Generation Program, Kaley learned to address and overcome any new obstacles in her path.

Kaley’s story teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of connecting with others and seeking out help.

You are not alone. Find your community. 

Support Resources for First-Generation Students:

This project was funded by The Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation, in memory of Maxwell Gray, and the Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg Collaborative Innovations Fund at the U-M Eisenberg Family Depression Center.