UTPA conducts first-ever Friday night graduation ceremony
Posted: 05/10/2002
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Dozens of master's and doctoral candidates at The University of Texas-Pan American received their degrees Friday, May 10 - marking the first time spring commencement has occurred over a two-day period.

In the past, the master's and doctoral candidates marched with one of the six colleges awarding bachelor degrees. This year, the University added the Friday night ceremony at the Fieldhouse to alleviate overcrowding during Saturday's commencement, when about 1,000 total graduates are expected to march.

Two graduates from the College of Education help each other dress and prepare for their commencement Friday night at the UTPA Fieldhouse. Pictured on the left is Maria Rosa Vela and on the right is Melly Olivarez.
The historic atmosphere was felt not just by UTPA's master's and doctoral candidates receiving degrees but also by the crowds of families, friends and out-of-town residents looking on. The two-day commencement exercise schedule is something new at UTPA, and for some, that means growth for the University and economic prosperity for the Rio Grande Valley.

"I think for The University it means that they've improved in the kinds of programs that they offer. The professors here are great. So, the growth definitely means UTPA is improving what it has to offer students and the community," says Sandra Mata, Master of Science in Social Work.

For Gina Lee, who received her MBA degree tonight and also earned her bachelor's degree at UTPA, having a commencement ceremony apart from the undergraduates makes tonight a lot more meaningful.

"It makes me feel a little more special like we're not just part of the normal ceremony anymore. Candidates for master's and Ph.D.'s now have their own separate ceremony and I like this a whole lot better, " said Lee.

Faculty members agree that tonight's commencement and the growing number of graduates all around means a definite boost for the economy and will also improve their own personal lives.

"More and more of our students in south Texas are having greater opportunities and this means that not just their families will benefit but the entire community as well," said Dr. Rodolfo Rocha, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

Dr. Salma I. Ghanem, Department of Communication chair and associate professor, was commencement speaker. She obtained a doctorate and master's degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from UTPA.

Dr. Salma I. Ghanem, Department of Communication chair and associate professor, addressed Friday night's master's and doctoral commencement exercises. She has been with the UTPA's communication department since 1994. Ghanem obtained a doctorate and master's degree in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from UTPA.
In her speech, Ghanem empathized with the graduates' emotions and reflected on how they must be feeling by recalling her own experience.

"I remember sitting in the Fieldhouse and waiting quite a while for my name to be called out, but I didn't care because I remember the unbelievable pride I felt when I crossed the stage," she said. "Those were probably one of the most memorable 12 seconds of my life."

"Graduation day is a day I've never forgotten, and neither should you. It marks your accomplishment and provides a moment of closure for all your hard work."

Ghanem, who has been with the UTPA communication department since 1994, recently was named "Educator of the Year" by the 10th District of the American Advertising Federation, which includes Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Having come to the United States from Egypt more than 20 years ago, she feels has found her home now and is grateful for having one of the best jobs in the world.

"Academia is where one learns, reads and thinks for a living," she said. "In addition, there is no other job in the world where we get to celebrate our and your accomplishments at least twice a year during commencement."

Ghanem continued by reassuring the graduates - along with their friends and families - that this milestone is not an end but a new beginning.

"Even though you think you have come to an end of the road by earning your master's and Ph.D., remember that a commencement means 'to begin,' " Ghanem said. "And, the value of a good education and a sign of true intelligence, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time. Today, in particular, is a good example of two opposite ideas. Today is an end and it is a beginning."

UTPA's four undergraduate commencement exercises will be held in the Fieldhouse today at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.