More than 600 Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary students watched their teachers - the majority alumni from The University of Texas-Pan American - march to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" during a mock graduation ceremony held Oct. 1 as part of the school's six-weeks college-readiness project.
"If you look around at your teachers in their caps and gowns, this means they went to college to learn how to be teachers so they could teach you," Principal Eliana Flores said to students gathered in the school gym that was decked out in UTPA's colors of green and orange.
This was the first time many of the Edinburg elementary school students had seen a commencement ceremony, and Flores hopes it is not their last.
"Boys and girls, this graduation is for you," Flores said. "We want you to know that there are a lot of opportunities for you when you go to college."
Flores said her school wanted to do things differently this year. Instead of having students see the name of a university on a pennant down the hallway, administrators and teachers at the campus wanted to show their students what a college education is all about, so they enlisted the help of the University.
Flores and Counselor Christina Sabedra - both UTPA alumna - thought it would be an excellent idea to begin their college awareness task, an Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District initiative, with UTPA.
"What we wanted to do was focus on a college and we wanted to begin with Pan American because it is here. It is close to home and it is in our community and a lot of us - 40-plus teachers and administrators - went to Pan American," Flores said. "We believe at Eisenhower that Pan American is just as great as all the other colleges."
For six weeks the students at Eisenhower Elementary studied all aspects of UTPA, from its location to its degree offerings. Flores said the school decided to culminate its project with a mock graduation ceremony so students could receive the full college experience, from studying and researching their topic to earning a diploma.
"We wanted them to know there is a college here and emphasize the need to go to college. It does not have to end after high school graduation," Flores said.
To help in their efforts, Sabedra contacted the University and asked if they would be interested in collaborating with the campus on their mission to produce college-ready students. UTPA jumped at the opportunity to promote higher education to future University students. Debby Grant, director for the Office of Alumni Relations, took the lead and provided the school with T-shirts, pennants and other memorabilia to pass out to students as well as campus information.
"It was a joy to partner with Eisenhower Elementary and promote our wonderful University to these young students and emphasize the importance of a higher education to our future UTPA Broncs," Grant said.
UTPA also provided a commencement speaker for the ceremony - Dr. Edna Alfaro, assistant professor of developmental psychology, who told students "college gives you the freedom to do anything."
"It is never too early and you are never too old to start learning about college," Alfaro said. "College is for everyone. I hope to see you all at UTPA one day."
To make the day extra special, the UTPA Cheer and Dance teams, along with school mascot Bucky the Bronc, rocked the house with an action-packed show that had the pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students chanting "U-T-P-A, U-T-P-A!"
"The great thing is Pan American is right here and we worked very closely with them to make today possible. We really appreciate all the help Pan Am has given us," Flores said.
With a screen that read "UTPA-Our Future College" in the background, Eisenhower Elementary Student Council members concluded the ceremony by declaring "UT Pan Am rocks" before the rowdy youngsters, who were dressed in their UTPA T-shirts and holding homemade mini-pennants they made with the University's name on it.
"The most important thing to remember is that at Pan Am all your dreams come true," said Olga Ramirez, a fourth grader and Student Council member, to her fellow classmates.