Carlo White believes that FIRST students provide a fresh perspective and appreciation of the value of education because they have lived through the limitations of not having a college degree.

Meredith O’Toole, Class of ’13
Clemson Alumni Association

As a high school basketball player in Greenville, S.C., Carlo White had dreams of attending college on an athletic scholarship. Although an injury quickly made this goal impossible, White never let go of his dream for higher education, and in the fall of 1994, he became the first member of his family to attend college.

Clemson’s FIRST Program ensures success for the University’s first-generation students like White, and although the program was not fully developed when he attended Clemson, its support system made all the difference.

White remembers, “When I hit the Clemson campus, it was overwhelming. I had absolutely no idea what to do to become a part of the Clemson community.” Although adjusting to campus life wasn’t easy, FIRST gave White the resources to find a major that fit his passion for business and would ultimately lead to a successful career.

In addition to the FIRST program, White was involved in Air Force ROTC during his four years at Clemson. “It was a challenging experience,” he said, “but it taught me discipline and how to be a leader.” White served for six years as an Air Force officer after graduation, during which his ROTC and FIRST experiences proved invaluable. He encourages current students to seek out leadership roles on campus and apply what they learn to other areas of life. “Practice your leadership skills on campus. Step up and take the lead! You’ll need it in the real world.”

More than an academic support system, FIRST links students with a network of peers who are going through a similar experience. “FIRST is priceless for them,” White explains.

“The Clemson Family has decided to put in a support system around these students to maximize the potential within them,” he said. “The return on investment will be great. FIRST students are special because they’re trailblazers within their immediate family. History has proven that individuals who have the courage to be first to break down barriers possess special qualities that can change the world.”

An active supporter of the FIRST program today, White has gained a new perspective on what makes FIRST students so successful.

“Perspective, passion, perspiration,” he quips. “FIRST students provide a fresh perspective and appreciation of the value of education because they have lived through the limitations of not having a college degree. That perspective typically leads to a passion and a work ethic molded within them which transcend school into their career.”

After White received his degree in economics in 1998, his brother, sister and his father all decided to pursue higher education. His sister even continued on to earn a master’s from Clemson. “She decided she wasn’t going to stop. She surpassed me!” he laughs.

“When I was the first to go to Clemson, it showed my family that education is something we can do. At that time higher education was still a barrier for my immediate family, but after one of us cleared the bar, the whole family knew they could do it, too! The same will prove true for each family tied to a successful FIRST student.”

Now the owner of White Holdings, LLC in Greenville, S.C., White offers key advice for current FIRST students. “Be bold and resourceful enough to take advantage of the wealth of opportunity available at Clemson. Do not settle for just being first to graduate college. Clemson offers the opportunity of a lifetime. Take full advantage and change your family forever!”

Tell us your story

If you were a first-generation graduate, please take a moment to tell us your story. Fill out the short form found here, and we’ll send you a free alumni car decal and a FIRST pin. Go Tigers!