Hundreds of students, faculty and staff at The University of Texas-Pan American gathered March 25 to honor the service and dedication of Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez, its longest seated president, during the "Celebration of a Legacy" event. Nevárez will be stepping down from the presidency in August 2004.
The first of two events, which drew mostly students - opened the celebration with live music from Roberto Pulido y Los Clasicos, and students were served free fajitas, nachos and drinks by University administrators and staff at the Quad.
Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia was also on hand to read the City of Edinburg's proclamation declaring March 25, 2004 "Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez Day." In his declaration Garcia cited a number of major contributions made by Nevárez since 1981 when he was chosen to head the University.
"First of all I don't think I'm moving out, just moving on. For every exit there's an entrance on to something new. I hope to continue to contribute to the University," Nevárez said.
Honoring Nevárez during the noon celebration included Paco Vielma, Student Government Association (SGA) president; Kimberly Guerra, Residence Hall Association representative; Kayla Dreyer, United Student Organization Council president; Atanislao Padron, Greek Council president; and Noelynn Gillamac, University Program Board president.
Many students were happy to be a part of the celebrations because for many, Nevárez has been their champion for more services and facilities.
"I'm particularly proud of the president because of his hard work to get more student financial aid," said Adan Nieto, UPB Road Trip Committee chair. "My mother, a migrant worker, was able to go to college and now both my sister and I are going to college. I really appreciate him for that."
Following the noon event, a reception for faculty and staff was hosted at the Student Union for the president.
UTPA employees turned out to wish the president well as he was honored for his many years of service. Dr. Frederick (Ted) von Ende, friend and colleague of Nevárez, was among the few asked to speak about Nevárez's legacy.
"Mike Nevárez has been a progressive president. He has presided over some of the most significant changes in the history of this institution. He has not sought change for the sake of change, but he has strongly supported change that would be best for the institution and the people the institution serves, even when the changes meant the establishment of competition for the institution," Von Ende said.
Some of Nevárez's closest friends and family rallied around him during this auspicious occasion as well.
"Everything that Mike has done has been for the students," said James Langabeer, vice president for Business Affairs. "He cared about the students and worked hard to give them services that they didn't have in order to get a college degree. And we are all here because of the students. We need to remember they come first."
Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, emceed the event and introduced other speakers that included Art Ramos, Staff Senate president; Dr. Ala Qubbaj, Faculty Senate president; and Annette McCann, Nevárez's daughter.
"We are proud that he is our father," McCann said. "There are no regrets only new beginnings. This is just the kick off for a lot more time together as a family."
Visibly moved by the outpouring of support and praise by his colleagues, friends and family, Nevárez was the last to speak.
"The experts say that when you retire you get a glimpse of what people will say at your eulogy. They also warn you that not all the wonderful things you hear will be true," Nevárez said. "I've loved every minute of it and I want to thank you all for being here today. It's a real honor."
It was a poignant evening that also featured a stirring 10-minute video looking back at Nevárez's 23 years of service.
The ceremony concluded with the presentation of a limited-edition miniature bronze bronc made on behalf of University employees and a plaque for outstanding service was given to him by the faculty.
"I've spent my entire adult life at this University and he made it feel like home," said Dr. Wendy James-Aldridge, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Anthropology.