BACK TO SCHOOL

What it means to be the first in the family to attend university — these students tell their story

With thousands of students starting their first year of university this week, here are stories from three teens about being the first in their family’s history to get a post-secondary education.

Aaliyan Khan, 18, says he is a 'stepping stone' for his younger brothers

From left: Aaliyan Khan, Amandeep Purewal and Hitesh Arulnesan are all the first in their family to attend university. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Thousands of students from Toronto are starting their first year of university this week.

While it's a milestone for many, it holds a different meaning for students who are the first in their family's history to get a post-secondary education.

Here are the stories of three students who are forging a new path for themselves.

Aaliyan Khan

Aaliyan Khan, 18, is studying commerce at Queen’s University. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Aaliyan Khan is studying commerce at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

This 18-year-old said his two younger brothers look at him as a role model. For Khan to attend university gives both of them a "stepping stone" to also pursue a post-secondary education.

Aaliyan Khan, left, with his two younger brothers. Khan says they look at him as a role model. (Submitted by Aaliyan Khan)

"Going to university could not only be my way to get a good job and make an impact here in Canada, but do something to make my parents proud," he said.

Khan already has his hopes set beyond the four-year program — he wants to get into law school and become the first lawyer in his family too.

Amandeep Purewal

Amandeep Purewal , 17, is studying atmospheric science at the University of British Columbia. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Amandeep Purewal is studying atmospheric science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

"My parents never got the opportunity to go to school and have a career that they dreamt of," she said.

Purewal's dad is a truck driver and her mom works at an auto parts factory.

A young Amandeep Purewal with her parents on her birthday. (Submitted by Amandeep Purewal)

The 17-year-old's parents didn't pressure her toward becoming "a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer." Instead, when she told her parents she wanted to be a meteorologist they didn't question her decision even once.

"They gave me the opportunity to follow my dreams and do something that I'm really passionate about," Purewal insisted.

Hitesh Arulnesan

Hitesh Arulnesan, 17, is studying commerce at York University. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Hitesh Arulnesan is taking commerce at York University, a dream he said wouldn't have been realized without the sacrifices of his parents.

"They had to start with basically nothing," said the 17-year-old whose parents immigrated from Sri Lanka during the country's civil war.

"They had to work multiple jobs, slowly work their way up [to] provide not only an education for me but also the life of any normal Canadian student," he said.

"They basically allowed me to live my life to the fullest."

Arulnesan wants to use his university education to become a social entrepreneur, a job that he said combines two of his top interests: entrepreneurship and helping others.

CBC Toronto is bringing you stories about students forging a new path for themselves and their families in our Back to School: First Generation series. Throughout the week, we will chronicle the dreams and struggles of three students who are the first in their family to get a post-secondary education.