Generation College students visit D.C.

<p>Members of Hermiston High's Generation College spent a week in Washington, D.C., this month, including a tour of the U.S. Capitol building.</p>

Hermiston students recently trekked from Eastern Oregon to the nation’s capitol June 9-15 to experience life on the East Coast.

Eight students made the trip to visit Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md.: Ashley Acosta, LySandra Jacks, Gardenia Jaime, Diana Lomas, Angel Montoya, Oanh Nguyen, Kate Nordquist and Gabriel Villegas.

Each is a member of Generation College, a club at Hermiston High that provides support to first-generation college students. Members remain in the club until they receive a bachelor’s degree. Club advisors Melody Bustillos and Roger Berger accompanied the students.

“Traveling there in general was just amazing, probably the highlight of my summer,” Jaime said. “Being able to have worked for our own vacation, traveling, it was just a blessing.”

Every year, Generation College students work concessions to raise money for visits to colleges in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Extra funding this year was raised through concessions at the state FFA convention and the Big Sky Conference basketball tournament.

The students who committed to going to D.C. worked long hours — up to 14 a day — in order to raise funds for the trip. Working to make goals a reality is a focus of Generation College.

“This club provides opportunities, and sometimes that opportunity comes in the form of work ethic, work skills. These students were able to work in order to travel,” Berger said. “A lot of students want things to happen but aren’t willing to work for it. These students saw the opportunity to work as a means to travel.”

The eight students who chose to go on the trip said working for something was natural.

“We’re used to working hard,” Jaime said. “We all knew we were up to the challenge.”

Berger and Bustillos chose Washington, D.C., because most of the attractions have no admissions fees, which lowers the overall cost of the trip. Students were able to recommend sites they wanted to see and activities they wanted to participate in.

Although students were able to tour colleges, Bustillos said the trip and the experience met other needs for the group.

“For students who are first generation, there are different barriers they have to succeeding in college,” she said. “One of the factors of being more confident and more successful in college is travel. We do that as often as we can, traveling around the Northwest, but this is the third time we’ve flown, and that’s a great experience for them.”

On the trip, the students were able to visit Georgetown University, as well as a national monument, Arlington National Cemetery, parts of the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center. The group also toured the U.S. Capitol building and met with U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, also a first-generation college graduate.

Outside of sightseeing, the Hermiston students met with more culture shock than they expected, including differences in weather, transportation and attitudes.

“I was expecting to go see colleges, see different things, but it was a whole new experience,” Nordquist said. “The atmosphere was really different, how people reacted, how people were.”

Jaime agreed.

“Here, we’re more used to agriculture, seeing people in messy jeans, work clothes,” she said. “In D.C., everyone is in slacks, dress shoes. They’re all going to work in an office. It’s different.”

Adjusting to city transportation was also a change.

“We got up, put on our backpacks and walked everywhere or we got on the Metro and then walked,” Jaime said. “We didn’t get up, get in the car and go.”

Berger and Bustillos said Generation College may take another long-distance trip in the next few years, but it depends on what funding opportunities they have. Berger said the club does not like to accept donations but rather looks for opportunities for students to work toward goals.

“It takes away the lessons of what we’re trying to teach if they receive something without working for it,” Berger said.

For the students, the hard work paid off.

“Having the opportunity to travel out there — it’s something I probably never would have done,” Villegas said. “It was a good opportunity to view the other side of the United States. It was definitely worth the work.”

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