Taylor Williams knew since middle school that she wanted to attend college, even though she would be the first in her family to do so. She wanted a career that would allow her to help people, and college was her first step.
Her parents had always encouraged her to pursue higher education, but when it came time to apply, Williams was mostly on her own. Though she had a mentor to help, her family couldn’t walk her through the process.
“When it was my time to go to school, I felt like I didn’t really have a lot of people in my family to talk to,” Williams said. “So, for the future generations, I just want to be able to help them with their college journey.”
This weekend, Williams will graduate from Carolina with a degree in human development and family studies from the UNC School of Education and plans to head back to her hometown of Warrenton, North Carolina, to put her diploma to work and help more students like her.
“I want to make a difference with my degree,” she said. “I would love to work in the public school system there. I feel like I can be relatable to students and help them through with things they’re going through.”
Though she started college with intentions of becoming a nurse, Williams found her calling during her second semester, when she began expanding her options of what to study and enrolled in an intro to human development and family studies course. The introductory course, combined with a two-credit career-planning class, set her on the new path of working in education. The pre-professional human development and family studies program provided her the foundation to pursue a graduate program or career in a variety of fields.
“I could do social work. I could be a teacher. I could be a counselor,” she said. “It was so broad, and it enlightened me because it didn’t make me feel like I was tied down to one thing. I could do multiple things, and that’s why I really fell in love with it.”
Williams saw the possibilities as a way to give back to her community and support students like her. She hopes to earn a master’s degree at some point but first plans to work directly with students in Warren County, particularly students on track to attend college.
“As a first-generation college student, it can be hard. The pressure is really on you. You don’t really get the pressure from your parents. It’s more like pressure on yourself,” she said. “For students who are considering going to college, they are kind of scared because their parents didn’t do it. I want to be that person for people to talk to.”
Before helping others achieve their college dreams, Williams will celebrate her own success with her family this weekend. The graduation ceremony at the Smith Center will be a significant milestone for the entire Williams family, she said.
“One of the things about being a first-generation college student is that I just wanted to make my family proud so they could see that name on a university degree, especially a UNC-Chapel Hill degree,” she said. “I know I should be proud of myself, which I very much am, but I feel like I did it more for them because my family means so much to me because they’ve encouraged me all my life to do better and do great things.”