Never wanting to be the center of attention during any graduation ceremony he has attended in the past 23 years, Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez still insisted on making the final one of his career all about the students.
But for many it was difficult to forget that as graduates prepared to begin their chosen careers, Nevárez would soon be ending his.
With mixed emotions, he took his last walk at the spring commencement exercises held May 7-8 as more than 1,200 students from The University of Texas-Pan American received their degrees at five separate ceremonies.
During a special presentation at the 100th graduation ceremony attended by Nevárez, Dr. Teresa Sullivan, executive vice chancellor for The University of Texas System, honored him with a silver emblem of appreciation for his service.
"President Nevárez has changed Pan American with the times," Sullivan said. "In nearly a quarter of a century, President Nevárez has provided transformative leadership for this campus and his influence has extended far beyond the Rio Grande Valley."
With a standing ovation, colleagues, friends, students and parents expressed their gratitude for the leadership Nevárez has demonstrated throughout his years as president.
"I see in the commercials now that so many of our graduates have reached high levels of government and other occupations. It is very inspiring to know that there has been such a strong Hispanic leader at such a big university that brings out those types of professionals," said Myra Leticia Ayala, who received a bachelor's degree in business administration
Nevárez thanked students for the opportunity to be their president and wished them well in their new roles in life as he prepared to start a new chapter in his.
"It really has been my honor and privilege to serve this great university and the community of South Texas. It is an honor to stand before you students today," he said. "Your graduation really honors and rewards me. You the students are why I have served this long."
The UTPA Mariachi also played a special song "El Rey, (The King)" after Nevarez received his award.
At Friday evening's ceremony, Guest Speaker Dr. Elena Bastida, professor in the UTPA Department of Sociology, congratulated Nevárez for his many successes while also honoring students for their accomplishments.
"We rejoice in the success of this outstanding graduating class of master's and doctoral candidates who find themselves on the verge of promising and successful professional careers," she said. "As faculty we feel proud of what you have accomplished and we find it hard to let you go on the journey that you are about to begin."
She encouraged students to live up to their own expectations and achieve a principled and just life.
The celebration began Saturday morning with the Honorable Ricardo H. Hinojosa, U.S. district court judge, addressing students from the College of Arts and Humanities and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Hinojosa was a guest speaker at Nevárez's first commencement as president. To commemorate his last, he was asked once again to participate in the ceremonies.
Hinojosa spoke to graduates about their responsibility to civic activities and he advised them to speak up and not grow complacent, but to demand excellence and integrity in society. He reminded them that their society should always include UTPA.
"In your responsibility to society don't forget UTPA," he said. "Be generous when you think about this school. It gave you the education to make your life a success."
Martha Aguirre, who graduated with a degree in Spanish, gave the University full credit for her success.
"My experience was wonderful," she said. "I had supportive professors that really gave me the kind of instruction that prepared me for teaching and I'm grateful for that."
It was 20 years ago that Leo Gomez, UTPA alumnus and now general manager of administration for Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Texas, enrolled at the University in hopes of receiving a college degree. Returning to the University as a guest speaker, Gomez spoke about the impact UT Pan American has on others when its graduates succeed.
"I call it UT Pan Am - the University that can," he said, a phrase he used frequently in his remarks to the graduates.
Gomez shared three important guiding principles he follows: know what you want, learn how to interact with people and take care of yourself.
Speaking to the College of Education graduates, Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, also a UTPA alumnus, talked about the teachers that made a difference in his life. He encouraged them to inspire others and continue their education.
"I am here today because of a teacher just like you," Hinojosa said. "I admire you, I don't know if I could be a teacher because it takes a lot of patience. Let this not be the end of your education. Never ever stop learning."
In honor of Mother's Day, the Award Winning UTPA Mariachi also played "Las Mañanitas."