To be a first-generation college student is to be a leader

Throughout the month of November, the University of Tennessee is celebrating first-generation college students and their determination to overcome obstacles and pursue their education.

University of Tennessee College of Law Dean Melanie D. Wilson, the first in her family to attend college, advocates for others to follow her lead.

“My parents worked really, really hard to instill in me the value of education because they didn’t have that opportunity,” she said.

“It was imparted in me that’s the way you could really be successful. You could change your life. You could change other people’s lives.”

In her position as dean, professor and mentor, she works to do just that.

“To be a first-generation student is to be a leader, and it’s to be a leader where other people know that they can do it,” she said.

She encourages students to develop relationships that will help them throughout the academic and professional careers. Students, she says, should also be willing to show their vulnerability.

Too often, “you don’t want people to know what you don’t know. And yet I don’t think there’s any shame in not knowing the answers,” she said. “I think there’s shame in not asking the questions and finding out those answers.”