I am lucky to be the first to attend college, but it doesn't define me | Perspective

University of Pennsylvania freshman Anthony Scarpone-Lambert on campus.

“Whatever happens, it doesn’t really matter.”

These are the words spoken by my mom seconds before I opened my admissions decision from the University of Pennsylvania.

After what seemed like the longest day of my life, it came down to this moment. I kept refreshing the browser: 2:55 p.m., nothing. 2:57, nothing.

3:01: “It’s up!” I said, both relieved and nervous.

As my parents drew in close, I set up my phone and pressed the record button to document what now is a loud and viral video.

“I GOT IN!!!!”

From screaming to hugging, to high-fiving, to drooling, I will never forget that moment, partially because I always get asked, “Are you the kid from the video?”

Because I am a first-generation college student, getting into an Ivy League was a big deal for my family. Even though walking into a university as prestigious as Penn was scary, I was one of the lucky ones.

I come from an amazing high school where faculty were devoted people who wanted to see their students succeed. I come from a family where my cousins helped pave the way to college. I come from two incredibly supportive and hardworking parents who have always encouraged me to go after my goals. I come from an educated community where going to college is the norm.

The same cannot be said for all first-generation students, many of whom come from communities where going to college, especially an Ivy League, is rare.

I was not the valedictorian at my high school, and I did not get a perfect score on the SAT. What I had, however, was a unique story, a strong work ethic, and a desire to make a positive difference in my community.

Even at Penn, although I’ve felt intimidated, I know people have my back — from advisers to professors to friends. Whether it’s the staff at the University of Pennsylvania College Achievement Program (PennCAP), or the Weingarten Learning Resources Center, or the faculty whom I live with in my college house, I’ve never felt alone.

Sure, there are days when I feel dumb compared with everyone else. Sure, there are days when I question why I came to such a prestigious university. Sure, there are days when I question if I am good enough to be here. But I’ve also had amazing days. Days when I felt at home in different communities on campus, days when I felt inspired to push myself further than I thought I could ever go, days when I felt confident enough to run for class president.

My freshman year so far has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride.

It started a month early with the PennCAP Pre-Freshman Program, where I became acclimated to Penn life before any other students arrived on campus. By the time school began, I already had a hundred friends, knowledge of the resources on campus, and a new defined confidence — a confidence that would lead me to run for class president; join an a cappella group and the Undergraduate Assembly; become a Penn tour guide, a member of Penn’s club gymnastics team and the Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club; help restart a male nursing club; and contribute to 1vyG, the first-generation conference happening at Penn in February. But that’s not even a complete list.

Camera icon Anthony Scarpone-Lambert
Anthony Scarpone-Lambert at the PENNacle Pre-Orientation Program.

I’m enrolled in six courses and I have a part-time job, so my schedule is pretty packed. The thing is, I absolutely love it. Running from microeconomics to work to a study group and then to gymnastics and a cappella rehearsal keeps me feeling energized and empowered. Let’s just say I sleep very well at night.

Camera icon Anthony Scarpone-Lambert
Anthony Scarpone-Lambert at Penn Club Gymnastics practice.

I may be a first-generation college student at an Ivy League university, but it does not define who I am or make me feel like any less of a student here. If anything, it motivates me every day to work harder. It motivates me to prove to the world that although I may not come from a family of doctors or engineers, I can still accomplish anything I put my mind to.

Anthony Scarpone-Lambert was featured as part of the Inquirer’s “First, Class” series, which is following a group of first-generation college students through their freshman year at University of Pennsylvania.