Fonda Yoshimoto-Reed - Director of Student Success
I put an extreme amount of pressure on myself when it came to my education. I saw school as a chance to improve my family’s circumstances. As a child, I experienced housing insecurity, poverty, and trauma. We had very little but I always had something to write with, draw, or make. I yearned for structure and somehow learned to create it. I expressed myself through art since I could share my experience without going into the details of my complicated life.
My grandmother is a constant source of inspiration. Born in Hawai’i but raised with her sister by her grandmother in Japan, she was separated from her parents and other siblings at age 8. She had to re-learn English when she returned to Hawai’i at age 18. She dreamed of a chance to continue her education and passed this dream along to me. She raised four children while working as a custodian at University of Hawai’i, Manoa where she was recognized for her hard work and generosity. She purchased pencils and a stapler to carry in her cart for students who would need these items at the last minute for a paper or exam. She exchanged greetings with students in her building, encouraging them during challenging times, and congratulating them on their achievements.
Even with my grandmother’s encouragement, I often experienced feelings of shame and confusion when it came to education and career. My mother and legal father discouraged me from going to college as they feared the education system and knew we couldn’t afford it. At the same time my mother had instilled in me the importance of asking questions and seeking help. While I was fortunate to receive scholarships and participate in educational opportunity programs, I kept costs down by living in sun rooms, living rooms, and other shared spaces. I took out loans and balanced work with school.
I pushed through my shyness and nervousness to ask questions and attend office hours. Despite the challenge, I was able to find professors and staff who mentored me and acted as my community, referring me to campus resources, offering encouragement, providing me with letters of recommendation, and giving me references. One of my mentors once described me as a “quiet leader.” It was the first time I had heard those two words together and the first time I realized a leader could be someone like me. Over time, through my classes and student organizations, I found a community of friends who valued my experience and perspective and who shared their own stories with me. Tutoring helped me strengthen my work and gain more confidence academically.
Leading up to my final year of undergrad, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I worked full time, coordinated her care, and had to withdraw from a course and request an “incomplete” grade for my final course. She was there with me as I walked across the stage for commencement, but passed away soon after. My professors and my advisor encouraged me to complete my degree, and helped me to navigate my options.
My path was challenging and non-traditional with multiple fits and starts. I had to navigate my way through multiple education systems; homeschool, public school, independent study, and the Santa Rosa Junior College before transferring to University of California, Davis where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Studio Art and Sociology. I then went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from Rhode Island School of Design.
Through the heartache and joy I’ve found a creative outlet and purpose in helping others. I see my grandmother’s dream, my mother’s advice, and the influence of all those who shared encouragement or support in the work that I do today. Your path may not be predictable or linear, but you bring unique experiences and strengths to your work and communities. You may be carrying on your family’s tradition in a different form or you may be creating your own path. You deserve to be here, you have so much to contribute, and your story will influence those around you now and for generations to come.
Words of Encouragement for First-Gen College Students
Your voice is important, you deserve to be here, and you have the right to celebrate your successes and honor your challenges.