Family members, friends and well wishers - some coming from hundreds of miles away - watched 688 of 1,187 eligible graduates receive their diplomas during winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 16 at The University of Texas-Pan American Fieldhouse.
The commencement included recipients of the first master's of science degrees in engineering, following recent state approval for the University's electrical, mechanical and manufacturing programs.
"The University of Texas-Pan American is extremely proud of you," said UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez, the longest tenured Hispanic president of a four-year higher education institution in the country.
"We expect great things of you. You are our alumni, and we are extremely proud of your accomplishments today. We also look forward to your accomplishments in the future world that you will help create."
Robert W. Shepard, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board member and Harlingen businessman, spoke to the College of Business Administration (132 graduates) and College of Science and Engineering (64 graduates) at 3 p.m.
Shepard told graduates that while their education gives them "a better job and a better life," they always must strive to learn and give back to their communities.
"I urge you to keep up with new discoveries and new technologies," said Shepard, chairman of The University of Texas-Brownsville Development Board and a member of the UTPA Business Council. "You also must give something to your fellow man. It is not enough to exist. You must do something more. Stay involved. Help those in need in your community and in the workforce."
Among the business administration graduates was Selvi Sudanthi, a 45-year-old accounting major from McAllen who followed in the footsteps of her two daughters - Suma, who graduated from UTPA in 1998 with a degree in manufacturing engineering, and Sudha, who received an electrical engineering degree from UTPA in 1999.
"I was not sure I could do it," Selvi said. "But everybody is wonderful here. I am able to talk to the professors. They even helped me find a job."
At noon, Dr. Jesus H. Chavez, award-winning superintendent for the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, addressed the 134 College of Education graduates. Encouraging them to return to UTPA for advanced degrees and training, he reminded the future teachers of their obligation to teach all children and teach them well.
"With your graduation today, you join the greatest profession on earth - teaching," said Chavez, a graduate of the Pan American University extension campus at Brownsville. "In your classroom, you may have a future governor or maybe even a future president of the United States."
Moments before getting her education degree, 30-year-old Diana Acosta received last-minute hugs from her two children. She is proud to be their role model and appreciates their support.
"My oldest asked how come I was so old and graduating," said Acosta, who plans to teach for a year before returning to UTPA for a master's degree. "I told him, 'It's never too late. You can be 50 and still graduate.' "
Meanwhile, Dr. Craig L. Hanis, professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, spoke during the 9 a.m. commencement for the College of Arts and Humanities (78 graduates), College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (75 graduates) and College of Health Sciences and Human Services (77 graduates). He said the Rio Grande Valley is unique because of its people.
"It's not the climate or the geography," said Hanis, who has been at UTHSC-Houston since 1981. "It's the people and their graciousness, their acceptance, their strong sense of family, loyalty and their willingness to do things that are of no personal benefit. It's also their dedication to their children and grandchildren."
To close out the evening, Nevárez spoke at 6 p.m. to 125 master's and three doctoral degree recipients. He told graduates they will face challenges constantly and to anticipate change as a "natural, normal occurrence" that can be used to better the world.
"You will probably be asked to deal with change, and more importantly, you may be asked to initiate change in your personal life," Nevárez said.
"Change will constantly occur, and how you deal with change and the kinds of change you strive to implement will demonstrate what kind of character, flexibility and integrity you possess. Enjoy the opportunities, excitement and knowledge that change can bring in your lives."