Speaking Spanish, being American and growing up in a multicultural environment gives Valley graduates an edge in the global marketplace, said the head of an $18 billion government agency during commencement ceremonies Saturday at The University of Texas-Pan American.
George Muñoz, who is the third highest ranking Hispanic in the Clinton administration, spoke to the College of Business Administration and College of Science and Engineering at 3 p.m., during one of four commencement exercises at the UTPA Fieldhouse. He also addressed College of Education graduates at noon, when state Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander canceled due to family illness.
"You are the asset of the United States that will help build this economy," said Muñoz, president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. "Those of you in business and engineering are in the cutting-edge professions of the 21st century. The world you are getting into is the most exciting world anyone can imagine."
Born in Brownsville, Muñoz has headed the Overseas Private Investment Corp. since 1997. An independent government agency, its mission is to facilitate the investment of private capital from the United States to more than 140 developing countries and emerging markets worldwide.
He noted that there are now twice as many countries on the map as there were when he was born in 1951 - from 107 to 217. He attributed the growth to citizens' demands for freedom, a higher standard of living and a brighter future.
"The world that awaits you is wonderful and full of opportunities," said Muñoz, who oversees a portfolio containing 650 projects. "People all over the world are asking about the American way, its services and products. You will be able to bring the products and services of this great nation to the rest of the world from right here in South Texas or anywhere. The Valley is connected to the rest of the world through technology."
Growing up with 11 siblings, Muñoz recalled his parents stressing the importance of a good education. They also passed on their beliefs that people could get ahead by working hard and playing by the rules.
The Brownsville native went on to earn four college degrees - a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School, a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a Master of Laws in Taxation from DePaul University and a business degree from The University of Texas.
"The beauty of it is that in the past - when your parents and I were going to school - we had to go away from home to get a good education," he said. "You're lucky because today you can get the best education at UT Pan Am. Come back and contribute to this great University and pave the way for the next generation."
Overall, an estimated 1,100 students received their degrees Saturday. The event included the first graduates for Master of Science degrees in social work and criminal justice and Master of Business Administration degrees for physicians.
During each commencement, UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez asked mothers in the audience to stand while the UTPA Mariachis played "Las Mañanitas," a traditional Mexican ballad.
This year's commencement was the last for students receiving an associate degree in nursing. The program was canceled because Valley students can now earn associate degrees at South Texas Community College.
The University will focus on bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs and on a research agenda.
KRGV-TV news anchor Rick Diaz spoke during the 9 a.m. commencement for the College of Arts and Humanities, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and College of Health Sciences and Human Services. He also spoke at the 6 p.m. commencement for master's and doctoral degree candidates.