During one gut-wrenching scene, the mother of Keresoma, the hulking but sweetly gentle Samoan dancer, shows her puzzlement. “I don’t know how things go, if you have to have, like, how much the college?” she asks. “You have to have the whole amount at the same time? Is that it? I mean, I don’t know. But I’ll find a way.”
Keresoma drops this frightening aside: “I have no money yet saved right now for college but this one guy is helping and, he say, uh, Massachusetts, um, Harvard University, they pay your way to college. So, that’s what I’m thinking of going.”
The narrator, actor Blair Underwood, notes for the audience that with a 3.0 grade point average, such a highly selective school is unlikely.
In several other instances we watch as students — one with no home or parents, and two others with only a single mom to rely on — are asked, in all seriousness, by their school’s guidance counselors if they could ask their families for the money to pay for college. One cluelessly told an orphaned student: “A lot of time family members can provide some money, too. Aunts and uncles, grandparents have saved some money [for college].”
And those are just a few of the everyday tragedies detailed in “First Generation.” I hate to spoil the ending, but like 59 percent of low-income students who this documentary says are eligible for first-tier universities, none of our four protagonists makes it into either the college of their choice or one that’s a good fit for their academic abilities.
This makes “First Generation” all the more important to see.
A limited theatrical release, DVD and on-demand distribution are in the works but the film has already been screened nationwide at film festivals, universities, and nonprofits. It has been broadcast through closed-circuit TV at public schools across the country and on Capitol Hill for members of the White House, Congress and the Department of Education.
If you care about making college more accessible for low-income students, keep your eye out for this film or, better yet, act on its plea: Tutor/mentor a student, provide an internship, speak in a classroom, and give to nonprofits, scholarship funds, afterschool programs, and college prep organizations.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.