More than 500 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Student Union at The University of Texas-Pan American Nov. 18 to hear several distinguished presenters from the "Inspire from Within Tour"-a speaker series created by the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
Raul Yzaguirre, NCLR president and CEO, UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, and State Representative Joaquin Castro (TX-125) were the three featured speakers.
Castro, San Antonio native and graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School, is one of the youngest members of the Texas Legislature at 30 years old. He reinforced the importance of attending college and told students about responsibilities they face as young men and women.
"Your challenge is to create opportunities for future generations," Castro said. "We need to live up to our potential and be role models for those behind us."
As the seventh president of UTPA and first Hispanic woman appointed to the position, Cárdenas shared her personal story and explained how inspiration from others led her to become the person she is today.
"Inspiration begins in your gut, goes to your heart and if you're lucky it embraces your mind," she said.
Cárdenas explained that everyone in the room was an heir to an inheritance of opportunity which had been given to them by previous generations.
"When you inherit something you have a choice. You can take it and spend it on yourself, you can ignore it or you can decide to invest it," Cárdenas said.
Yzaguirre, a 65-year-old San Juan native, recounted a brief history of instrumental Hispanic leaders who aren't well known, his own life experiences and a series of common agendas he feels Hispanics should share as the nation's largest minority group.
"We want to build a nation where people are judged by their actions, not by their accents," Yzaguirre said. "Above all we have an unshakable belief that this nation's best days are ahead of us."
At the end of this year, after 30 years as president and CEO of the NCLR, Yzaguirre will retire as head of the organization.
NCLR is a private, nonprofit organization established in 1968 to reduce poverty and discrimination and improve life opportunities for Hispanic Americans. The organization maintains five strategic priorities-education, assets/investment, economic mobility, health, and media/image/civil rights according to its Web site.
Yzaguirre first joined NCLR in the mid-1970s, when the group had an operating budget of less than $500,000. Today, the organization has an operating budget of $28 million and more than 300 affiliates in 41 states, including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, reaching more than four million Hispanics.
Yzaguirre feels that his biggest educational value hasn't been in the classroom, but greatly respects the classroom as an important part of education.
"The most revealing epiphanies in my life have been outside the classroom," Yzaguirre said. "Those happened when I heard somebody speak, when I had a particular experience that resonated with me, or when I thought about things in a different way. You have to have these kinds of enrichment exercises to make college life meaningful."
Some students asked questions and sought advice about mentoring, life preparation and how to give back to their communities. Each speaker was also available to talk to students one-on-one during a reception following the event.
Sponsored by Taco Bell®, the tour was co-hosted by the University's Office of Student Life and Transition Services, the UTPA Multicultural Center and the UTPA Student Union.