A Graduate’s Story

First-generation College Student Kaheen Hasan tells her college journey.


Mardeen Ahmad

This year, due to the pandemic, Grossmont College held its 2021 commencement virtually via Zoom. 

Not being able to walk up on a stage and be handed your degree is just one of the many experiences COVID-19 has taken away from students. For Kaheen Hasan, who earned her associate degree for transfer in psychology this year, it’s quite the heartbreak. 

“It just sucks because I worked so hard to finish my studies at Grossmont,” Hasan said. “We all did. It would have been nice to put on a cap and gown but you know, first-world problems.”

First in the Family

Hasan is a first-generation American and college student of Kurdish descent. Her parents fled Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and came to the U.S. in the 1990s with their two sons. Here, Hasan’s parents had a third son, Sangar. Born a year after Sangar, Hasan became her parent’s first and only daughter. 

Throughout her journey at Grossmont, Hasan overcame many hurdles both internal and external.

She enrolled at Grossmont when she was just 18 years old, fresh out of El Cajon Valley High School. “I feel like I enrolled at that time to just not feel lost, which I still was,” she explained. 

Hasan started off her Grossmont career undecided with her major, just taking general education courses. She said the transition to college was much harder than she anticipated and her first two years were “really tough and discouraging.”

Family First

During her first year, Hasan’s three brothers had all moved out to Texas for job opportunities, leaving her last in the nest. This meant Hasan would bear most of the responsibility in the house. With two immigrant parents who spoke limited English, it wasn’t the easiest of tasks.  

Hasan’s grades began to struggle, but she said she felt the workload was still manageable. That was until shortly after her brother’s moved out, in the middle of her first semester, her father fell extremely ill. 

After suffering a heart attack, Hasan’s father was taken into emergency bypass surgery which took weeks to recover from. He required around-the-clock care, and with only Hasan and her mother in the house, there wasn’t much time for schoolwork.  

From then on, there were constant trips to the doctor’s office and emergency rooms. Because Kurdish is not as common a language in the U.S., healthcare facilities did not provide translators. Instead, Hasan served as the translator, meaning it was essential she attended every appointment and phone call with her father’s doctors.  

Unfortunately, Hasan finished off her first two years with straight Fs, ultimately getting herself disqualified from Grossmont in 2019. She credits this moment in her academic career as her turning point. “I was so disappointed in myself, but I believe that was the fire I needed lit under me,” Hasan said.  

Second Chance

Attending a different community college was an option, but it wasn’t on Hasan’s radar. She was determined to get back to Grossmont and finish what she started there. So, she decided she would appeal to the Admissions and Records office. 

To Hasan’s excitement, she was approved and allowed back into Grossmont under academic probation. “I really do believe this was my God-sent second chance,” she said. “There was absolutely no way I was going to mess it up.” 

When asked where she gets her motivation, Hassan said she wasn’t sure. Because she is the first of her immediate family to pursue a higher education, she wasn’t really pushed by them. “It was all on her own. She was never told to study, she just did it,” said Hasan’s mother, Medina.

“It might just come from me wanting to change the trajectory of my blood line,” Hasan said with a laugh. “That sounded really Game of Thrones-ish but I don’t know how else to explain it. I want my children to have their mother to look up to and know that they have a certain standard to meet,” Hasan said.  

That mindset seemingly influenced her older brother, Sangar, 26. While visiting his family, he saw his sister registering for commencement and that night, he began asking her questions about how she did it and how she feels. 

“I was so proud of her, it felt like I was the one graduating. I guess that made me realize that I wanted to make them proud of me too like that,” said Sangar, who plans to return to Grossmont in the fall. 

Now transferring to CSU San Marcos in the fall at 22 years old, Hasan said she is done dwelling on the past. “I used to think, wow, my friends that are my age are already done and here I am. But that’s such a toxic way of thinking that I think a lot of us are guilty of,” she said. 

Hasan added that everyone graduating from Grossmont this year has a lot to be proud of. “Yeah, I mean, it would have been nice to have had a whole in-person ceremony, but that’s not why we did it,” she said. “The true celebration is in our accomplishment. Congratulations, everyone.”