Graduates from The University of Texas-Pan American celebrated the holidays early this year after receiving their degrees during four separate ceremonies Saturday, Dec. 13 at the UTPA Fieldhouse.
Nearly 1,400 students - 1,126 candidates for bachelor's degrees, 240 for master's degrees and 8 for doctoral degrees - were eligible to participate in the graduation ceremonies, and celebrate with colleagues, friends and family.
UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez congratulated graduates at the beginning of each ceremony and told them that although receiving a degree was hard for many, the results will be worthwhile.
"A great philosopher once said, 'The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet," Nevárez said. "This graduation ceremony is the culmination of your hard work, dedication and commitment. The harvest is at hand. The fruit that Aristotle spoke of is within reach."
J.R. Gonzales, chairman of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, addressed graduates from the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Health Sciences and Human Services during the 9 a.m. ceremony.
In his brief, but informative address, Gonzales stressed the importance of building success among Hispanics.
"We must have political involvement. There are 40 million of us, but we don't vote. We must if we want to have an impact on our society," Gonzales said. "To build success, we must create wealth. Wealth is a great equalizer."
Gonzales also spoke to graduates from the College of Education and the College of Science and Engineering where he talked about the importance of education in today's society.
"Education is first and foremost and is the cornerstone of any society and without it we could not grow and prosper," he said. "You are joining the ranks of the elite few. There about 40 million Hispanics in the U.S. but only 10 percent have the advantage of a post secondary education."
An honor graduate from Roma, Blanca Alaniz sported a bright yellow drape atop her graduation gown representing membership in Phi Kappa Phi, a national education honorary society.
Alaniz earned a Bachelor of Science degree in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in bilingual education. Alaniz, who was one of the first 29 students to graduate after attending UTPA classes at the Starr County Upper Facility, finished her degree with a 3.7 Grade Point Average.
"Many of us have families, so we didn't have to travel back and forth (to Edinburg campus). We could spend more time with our families and our studies," she said.
Guadalupe Villarreal Delgado from San Carlos decided to go back to school following her divorce, and earned her degree in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in early childhood education.
"I was working three jobs and going to school at nights. It took me about seven and a half years to complete this degree," she said. "I wanted some self respect and dignity. I think that I accomplished that. I feel very fortunate to be here today," she said.
Villarreal Delgado, the mother of a 15 year old has since remarried and said her husband has been very supportive.
"I helped him as well. He got a B.S. and his masters in mechanical engineering and he has been working for about a year now. We struggled, both of us, to survive but we made it," she said.
Villarreal Delgado starts a new job at San Carlos Elementary School as a first grade teacher in January.
Dr. William H. Cunningham, former chancellor of The University of Texas System, equally inspired graduates from the College of Business Administration and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences during a 3 p.m. ceremony. He also addressed master and doctoral candidates during the final ceremony at 6 p.m.
"To this fall's graduates, allow me to join your family, your teachers and your friends in congratulating all of you on reaching the conclusion of this phase of your education, and, indeed, this important milestone in your lives," he said. "Some of you have sprinted across this academic finish line with ease. Others may be a little out of breath. But all of you have made it, and we are proud of each one of you."
Cunnignham told students to be flexible and adaptable to change; maintain and support traditional values; work hard; never lose sense of adventure and always remember success in life requires a willingness to try new things and take risks; and to repay those who have invested in their education.
He also directed the audiences' attention to the progress UT Pan American has made under the leadership of Nevárez, who will be retiring at the end of this year.
"UT Pan American was the first University I visited when I was named chancellor. I did so for two reason: first, I felt that UT Pan American had the potential to become one of the truly great universities in America and second, because I needed the advice and counsel of one of America's great educators - President Nevárez," Cunningham said. "When Dr. Nevárez retires this spring, the University of Texas System will lose one of its finest presidents."