Dr. Robert S. Nelsen led his first commencement ceremonies of his presidency at The University of Texas-Pan American Saturday, May 15 as he celebrated one of the most rewarding days of the academic year with more than 1,600 graduates and their families.
"Today is one of the most remarkable days you will ever have in your life. A day you will remember forever," Nelsen said. "You will forget who your speakers were and what was said but you will always remember you graduated today."
Nelsen, UTPA's eighth president who completed his first semester at the university, conferred 1,244 undergraduates and 368 graduates with their degrees during the 2010 Spring Commencement ceremonies at the McAllen Convention Center.
"All of you are our future," Nelsen told the 2010 graduating class during his first commencement speech where he also recognized 35 veterans who graduated this spring. To date, UTPA has honored more than 1,600 veterans with their diplomas.
Several graduates on Saturday said they were excited to start a new chapter in their lives and were grateful to their professors who helped them reach their goals.
Rio Grande City resident Maria Bazan, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology, was so impressed with her professors at UTPA she's returning this fall to work on her master's.
"They were so down to earth, they make it fun," Bazan said. "They talk to you like you're a human being and not like a robot trying to teach a classroom."
Bazan, the first person in her family to graduate from college, said she plans to work for the federal government after she completes her master's degree.
Hector J. Garcia, a McAllen resident who graduated with a bachelor's in English, said he appreciated how his professors pushed him and fellow students to work harder and guided them through their studies.
Garcia, who plans to go to law school, said he will miss UTPA's close-knit community.
"This is like a giant family. At (UT) Pan Am the students, faculty and staff all work together. Just walk into a building and it makes you feel like you're not a stranger, it makes you feel at home," he said.
Sharing his words of wisdom with the outgoing class during the 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. ceremonies was Dr. Richard A. Tapia, a mathematician and professor at Rice University, who is internationally known for his research in the computational and mathematical sciences.
Tapia, a Maxfield Oshman Professor in Engineering, associate director of Graduate Studies, and director of the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education at Rice University, shared his story of success and asked the 2010 graduating class to become "concerned citizens" and make the world a better place.
"True success is not the education that we have, it is what you do with that education," Tapia said.
He also told the graduates to take the time to relish in their day and think of how far they have come in life.
"This is a good time to pause, celebrate and reflect. Reflection is important. It will help prepare you for future decisions," Tapia said.
Speaking at the final ceremony of the day for the 260 graduates in the College of Education and 249 graduates in the College of Business Administration was Robert W. Shepard, board chairman of Shepard Walton King Insurance Group.
A graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Shepard has been an active advocate for higher education at the state and regional levels. He has served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board since his appointment in 1996 by then Governor George W. Bush. In 2005 he was appointed THECB chairman by Governor Rick Perry. Shepard is chairman and president of the College for All Texans Foundation.
Shepard, a Harlingen native, talked about the important relationship between business and education in helping prepare leaders to compete in the 21st century.
"We have to do a good job of educating the educators. Business has to understand that we have to have an educated workforce. So if you graduates in the College of Business don't know the fellow graduates in the College of Education with you today, stand up and introduce yourself," he said.
Shepard advised the graduates to be proud of the University they graduated from; to give back to the University and the community; and to never stop learning.
He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, "The things taught in school and colleges are not education but the means of an education."
"You need to think about that for a bit. How true it is ... you need to continue to challenge yourself, to question yourself, question others and keep an open mind about new ideas, new arguments and even new conclusions," Shepard said.
Erika Degollado, from McAllen and a 2004 alumna of UTPA, was one of 25 students receiving a Master of Business Administration in management. She said she returned to pursue her MBA to enhance her skills to be more competitive in the workforce.
"I also wanted to make my family proud," said Degollado, who is a training and development marketing manager at Lone Star National Bank.
She described UTPA's MBA program as great.
"A lot of my professors offered that extra help when it was needed. They were always available. Also everything that I learned I was able to apply to my job within my industry," she said.
Degollado will continue in her current job but plans, after taking a break, to pursue a doctorate and teach.
"I feel complete when I see someone learn something that comes from my knowledge. It makes me feel very good when someone walks out of my training in the job I do now knowing something more than what they did before," she said.
To view the full text of the commencement speeches, visit http://ur.utpa.edu/graduation/.