The 2009 summer commencement ceremonies for The University of Texas-Pan American marked a milestone in the history of the University as the 50,000th undergraduate degree was awarded Saturday, Aug. 22.
Two ceremonies for the 755 prospective graduates in both undergraduate and graduate programs in six academic colleges were held throughout the day at the McAllen Convention Center.
UTPA Interim President Charles A. Sorber welcomed the graduates and their families and announced the University would award its 50,000th undergraduate degree during the day, which he said was a measure of the many lives that had been impacted by the institution.
"This great achievement represents the hard work and sacrifice of the many students who have walked the halls of our campus, and it also celebrates the contributions of faculty, some of whom you see here today," Sorber said.
Since the University opened in 1927, more than 50,000 students have earned bachelor's degrees, more than 10,600 students have earned master's degrees and more than 100 students have earned doctoral degrees.
"Each number represents a person whose life was forever changed by this institution - an individual story of success," Sorber said. "It took 82 years to reach this significant goal. We can and will reach the next 50,000 in less than half that time."
Sorber also recognized the 20 graduating Valley veterans for their service during their respective ceremonies. UTPA has awarded degrees to more than 1,500 veterans since the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts began.
Dr. Jesús Frank de la Teja, professor and chair of the Department of History at Texas State University, served as keynote speaker during the first ceremony at 9 a.m. for the College of Arts and Humanities, which had 206 prospective graduates, the College of Education, which had 116 graduation candidates, and the College of Health Sciences and Human Services with 43 prospective graduates.
De la Teja, a noted scholar and respected author, was the first to ever serve as state historian of Texas from 2007-2009. He is a life fellow of the Texas State Historical Association and the Texas Catholic Historical Society, a member of the Philosophical Society of Texas and The Texas Institute of Letters, and an honorary admiral in the Texas Navy. He recently received the Americanism Medal from the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and was inducted as an honorary member of the Sons of the Republic of Texas.
De la Teja gave the graduates a small history lesson during his address when he told them that the future belongs to those who understand the past - noting Thomas Edison didn't wake up one morning and discover electricity and the light bulb.
"Other people over the course of thousands of years made the discoveries and inventions necessary for Edison to see the future in the form of electric light," de la Teja said. "Edison may have invented the first successful light bulb, but he could not have done it without the benefit of standing on the shoulders of others. In the same way, what you accomplish will rely on the work of countless predecessors who have provided you with knowledge and tools to make future contributions."
He also told the graduates to believe in themselves and to believe in something greater than themselves, and to also enjoy today, but to live for tomorrow.
"You must invest in your future, as you did by committing to your college education," de la Teja said. "Don't stop now. When you find that first job, use it to gain experience for the next career move, to prepare for a lifetime of accomplishments. Have faith and believe that every opportunity or offer is a chance to make the world a better place, even if only in a small way."
The 18th mayor of the city of McAllen and 1970 UTPA alumni Richard Cortez spoke to the afternoon graduates of the Colleges of Business Administration, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Science and Engineering.
Cortez, who is a senior partner with the public accounting and management firm of Burton, McCumber and Cortez and is in charge of the firm's litigation support department, asked graduates and audience members to celebrate and applaud the University's major milestones this year, including being named one of country's Best Public Colleges in Forbes recently published "America's Best Colleges 2009" rankings as well as the awarding of the 50,000th undergraduate degree.
"How proud you should be of the 50,000 of us that have benefitted from what they do at UTPA," he said.
During his address, Cortez shared several pieces of advice with the more than 390 graduates present, including advising them to find or develop a spiritual relationship that will carry them through the good and tough times in their lives, as well as learn to show affection to those they love.
"Showing affection to somebody is the greatest gift you can give. I strongly encourage you to show affection to those you love even those you don't know," he said.
He asked the graduates to develop good eating habits and start a physical exercise program to keep their waistlines down and live longer happier lives. He also encouraged them to take financial responsibility.
"One of the things I would recommend you do immediately when you graduate from here and get your first paying job is to pretend that you did not get paid for three months and build a savings of your three months earnings and put it away for that rainy day," Cortez said.
Cortez also asked the graduates to consider making their communities better places and enter into a path of public service.
"How good the community is, is not up to the mayor or elected officials. ... The communities belong to you, and you must give back time, talent, and sometimes even money to make it better because you decide what type of community you want," Cortez said.
Draped with a Beta Gamma Sigma business honor society stole over his gown, magna cum laude graduate Hector A. Cornejo from Edinburg said he had come a long way since flunking kindergarten and not being a very good student until he took an interest in computers at age 16. After earning an associate's degree from South Texas College, Cornejo entered UTPA in 2005 and graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration - computer information systems.
"What really motivated me was that I really had tough professors. They challenged me and that motivated me to work harder," he said.
He said he had a great introduction to conducting research at UTPA and was able to publish and present his research at conferences, most recently in Oklahoma at a conference of Decision Sciences Institute, a professional organization of primarily business scholars. While expressing interest in becoming an entrepreneur with a Web site modeled on a site like eBay, Cornejo said he's excited that the degree he earned gives him a number of career options.
"I got a broad overview of all things in programming from gathering how you are going to build the program to project management. We can become business analysts, where you can do a lot of forecasting or sales or go to the technical side and do a lot of programming. I'm still deciding what route I'm going to take," he said.
After graduating with her bachelor's in business administration with a concentration in marketing, Deanna Schneyer from Diamond Bar, Calif., will have one week before starting her first class in the Master of Business Administration program at UTPA. Schneyer said she is confident she could go into the work force with strong knowledge and understanding of the business world but is excited to pursue higher education.
"I wanted to go another level and also I think it will be worth a lot more later on. Having a college degree now is equivalent to having a high school diploma. I want to be one step ahead of the competition. I want to have more knowledge and be able to apply that to whatever field I decide to enter," she said.
One of her most memorable experiences while an undergraduate student, she said, was her study abroad trip to Germany as a sophomore. She traveled there with German students studying at UTPA and took a "Topics in Management" course while there.
"It really gave me a global perspective. I'd take another study abroad trip in a heartbeat," she said.
As a student-athlete at UTPA - a member of the volleyball team - Schneyer said the academic support she received was tremendous.
"You would have to try very hard to fail or even get a C in a class. There are so many resources they give you, study hall and tutors. We're always called student-athletes because we are a student first. UTPA does an incredible job of taking care of the athlete in the classroom and on the court," said Schneyer, who will work as a graduate assistant while pursuing her master's degree this coming semester.