Families, friends and loved ones packed The University of Texas-Pan American Fieldhouse to watch graduates receive their bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees during four spring commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 12.
Of the 1,102 prospective graduates, 860 walked during commencement. They included the first three graduates in the Educational Leadership doctoral program and 21 graduates of the first class in the Physician's Assistant Studies program.
UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez spoke to graduates at the beginning of each ceremony. He encouraged them to continue on their road to success through knowledge and education.
"The knowledge you have acquired will lead you through life," Nevárez said. "I challenge you to take interest in your churches, schools and community. But most importantly, I challenge you to be good role models. On behalf of the staff and faculty, I want to congratulate you and greet you into this new path in life."
During the commencement, Nevárez paid tribute to all the mothers in the crowd by having the UTPA Mariachis play Las Mañanitas, a traditional Mexican ballad, for Mother's Day.
The 9 a.m. commencement featured speaker Linda Griego, entrepreneur, civic leader and former deputy mayor of Los Angeles. She addressed graduates from the College of Arts and Humanities (88 graduates), College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (91 graduates) and College of Health Sciences and Human Services (125 graduates).
Griego told graduates about her difficult journey towards success and the childhood memories that gave her the courage to continue.
"I've been so fortunate to have realized so many impossible dreams," she said. "By the way, I do not want to leave you with the impression that I have achieved only successes. I had my share of failures and disappointments, but I don't dwell on them. I just take a look at them, analyze what went wrong and I go on."
Griego also spoke at the noon ceremony to graduates from the College of Business Administration (97 graduates) and College of Science and Engineering (124 graduates). She told them their education at UTPA will allow them to fulfill all their goals and dreams.
"I encourage each and every one of you to use your imagination, your creativity, your vision and not least your leadership," Griego said. "UTPA has provided you tools; now use your skills. You will succeed."
Carole Keeton Rylander, Comptroller for the State of Texas, was keynote speaker at the 3 p.m. convocation for the College of Education (192 graduates). She advised graduates to take an active role in educating the next generation and preparing them for the future. She also stressed the importance of speaking out, even when the odds are against you.
"It's not the dollars you make; it's the difference you make," Rylander said. "When you walk out of here today, look into the horizon. You are looking at the 21st century."
Rylander called the future teachers and school administrators "modern-day Texas pioneer heroes."
"Men and women have a responsibility to speak out on those issues that matter," Rylander said. "You are our modern-day Texas pioneer heroes. Our Texas of tomorrow is rooted in the pioneer spirit. Now is the time to act."
Annabell Jara, 43, finally received her education degree after 16 years of hard work and determination. She said it was hard but worth it.
"I struggled to finish, but I have a super family who supported me," Jara said. "I just can't believe it. It was a high goal for me to accomplish."
Irasema Lopez, 23, said getting her bachelor's degree in education was a goal she wanted to reach. Now she plans to continue and obtain her master's.
"I'm accomplishing all of my life-long goals," Lopez said. 'It has definitely paid off. I can't wait to start teaching, and hopefully I can come back for my master's."
Dr. Karen Lozano, engineering professor, spoke to 143 master's and doctoral degree recipients in the final ceremony. She told graduates about the importance of family, principles and community toward succeeding.
"Always form a good team, but the best team you can form is your family. The second thing is to never compromise your principles," Lozano said. "Morals and integrity are far more important than anything else. Third is to contribute to the community and encourage the youth to pursue an education because that is something that can never be stolen away."
The final convocation included a hooding ceremony for the first graduates from the Educational Leadership doctoral program - Dr. Alda T. Benavidez of La Joya, Dr. Scott Hollinger of McAllen and Dr. Jacques Treviño of Donna. Dr. Alton Henry Cook Jr. received a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the College of Business Administration.