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Why "Grand Army's" Dominique appeals to first-generation students

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

The best way to describe Netflix's latest teen drama "Grand Army" is that it is a combination of "Euphoria" and "Degrassi." It has all the love, drama, and chracters of a typical show about teenagers. At first, I was not impressed with how basic the show seemed. It has its "It girl," jocks, minorities, and misfits. As I continued to watch more episodes, the raw and pure storylines of these characters quickly got me hooked. And it was newcomer Odley Jean's character, Dominique, that I connected and identified with the most.

Dominique or Dom is the overachiever of her class. She is the only one balancing multiple responsibilities at once while trying to excel in all. Dom is a first-generation Haitian American that has to balance her school life with babysitting her nephews, creating a side hustle, keeping a spot on the basketball team, hanging out with her friends, and falling in love. As if this does not seem like a lot, she is also interviewing for her dream internship and has to make a tough decision on whether she will marry someone in order for her family to be more financially stable.

Dom is a clear example of first-generation students today. As a first-generation college student, I can feel Dom's stress as she is trying to study, babysit her nephews, do someone's hair for extra money, and be the caretaker of the family at the same time. Though overwhelmed, Dom will do anything to make sure her family is doing well even if it means forgetting to study for a test or being there for her friends. A small scene that resonated with me was when she pulls out the calculator app on her phone and begins trying to add all the expenses of her home. She starts a side hustle doing people's hair which she hopes can be the solution to her family's financial worries. I too will never forget the number of times I pulled up the calculator app to see if I could afford my first semester of college, high school expenses, and rent. Like Dom, I remember at times not having a quiet place to study and only sleeping about 3-4 hours a day to be ready for school the next day.

"Most people, even people who want to help... they don't always understand what some people are up against." This is the introduction to the trailer of the series, but also one of Dom's most powerful quotes as she interviews for her dream internship at a non-profit that makes mental health services accessible to low-income communities of color.

As first-generation students, struggles are a part of our identity. It is our determination and dreams that will keep us going even when we hit rock bottom and feel like giving up. In Dom's interview, she says, "There's just not enough time to do all the things I have to do to go after the life I want ... and I'm tired." I felt this on so many levels and remember how overwhelming it was applying for colleges while keeping up with 4 AP classes while being there for my mother as she was sick my last year of high school.

When the bell rings at school, we know we have to shake off our personal struggles and put up a face to work twice as hard and feel as we're equal with our counterparts. Dom embodies all of this as she pushes all her home problems away while she's at school pretending everything is okay. She does not complain. She just swallows the pain and keeps going. As someone who has been through similar situations as Dom's character, I know that these personal problems at home slowly start eating you from the inside until you hit a moment in life where you have to stop, break down, and reassess all of your tasks to keep persevering the next day.

Once all of Dom's responsibilities overlap each other, she reaches a breaking point. She cheats on a test and gets caught, she puts her relationship with her friends and boyfriend at risk, and begins to lose that drive and spark she had at the beginning. The upbeat and energetic girl jamming to Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow" in the first episode is no longer there. Instead she is tired, overwhelmed, and upset at how hard her life is. In her internship interview, she also says, "They don't wanna see my anger because who's actually allowed to be angry. That's a privilege like everything else and my anger doesn't count. But all those feelings, they're still there and they have nowhere to go."

This powerful quote comes to play when she argues with her friends and breaks down. All her compressed feelings catch up to her and she cannot seem to find a light at the end of the tunnel of her struggles.

As first-generation college students, we carry a burden on our backs of who we want to be and who we should be to reach our dreams. Attending college is the beginning of a new chapter for ourselves, our families, and our communities. Despite all her challenges, Dom refuses to give up on her dream of studying psychology and going to a top school. Through the support of her friends and family as well as her mom's decision to cancel the green card wedding, the end of the season shows us a Dom that is free. Yes, her family's financial status is still the same. Yes, she still has to care for her nephews and figure out her school, work, and life balance. By learning to enjoying herself and feeling better about all of her problems, Dom realizes that there is hope with just a simple smile.

There is hope that she will attend college. There is hope that her family will not get evicted. There is hope that she will find happiness in the present instead of constantly worrying about all of the problems surrounding her. That is the main lesson Dom left us at the end of season one. I've always thought that if I could go back in time to high school, I would push myself to have more learn to take a breaks and care for myself and my loved ones. I would tell myself that things will get better despite how hard they seem.

Jaspar Savage/Netflix

Dom is an example of a lot of first-generation students who are overachievers in every sense of their lives. But she also shows us how hard that can be and how it is important to breathe a little and learn to enjoy the ups and downs of our lives in order to be stronger and keep fighting for our goals.

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