Carlos X. Guerra is a successful cattle rancher and businessman, a dedicated volunteer in his community, a prolific philanthropist and a happy family man.
Now he can add "UTPA graduate" to his long list of accomplishments.
During the first of two commencement ceremonies of The University of Texas-Pan American Aug. 20, UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen awarded an unsuspecting and emotional Guerra a bachelor's degree in business administration. Guerra, 59, left then Pan American University in 1974 six hours short of earning his diploma to take care of family and business responsibilities.
Guerra was at the ceremony to serve as a commencement speaker and the President surprised him with the diploma following Guerra's talk.
Nelsen said the degree was awarded based on Guerra's professional career credits and approved by UT System officials.
"This is not honorary. This is true and this is real," Nelsen said, as he placed a memory stole on Guerra's shoulders and opened the diploma's cover. "Ladies and gentlemen, meet the day's first graduate."
Guerra's recipe for success
Among those values were faith, integrity, gratitude, patience, and having a strong work ethic.
"...work hard, work smart and work honest and guess what - your dreams will come true," he said.
As owner and operator, with his wife Ofira and family, of La Muñeca Cattle Company in Linn, Texas, Guerra has kept his family's historic ranching legacy alive. His cattle breeds are in demand worldwide and he's frequently called on to judge cattle competitions and livestock shows nationwide.
He has also continued his family's legacy of giving. Guerra has been a longtime supporter of the 4-H and the Future Farmers of America and donated more than $500,000 to provide scholarships for students at Pan Am, where its honors program bears his parents' names - Rafael "Felo" and Carmen Guerra.
He told the graduates he closes all his letters, emails and phone calls with his favorite guiding word - ánimo, a Spanish word that embodies dedication, commitment, passion, spirit and ganas.
"If you don't have it, you are going to be in trouble," Guerra said.
Nelsen defines the magic in Magic Valley
Nelsen said in Montana, where he grew up, there was snow, not the sunshine, irrigations systems and orchards found here that became known as the symbols of what was then called the Magic Valley. It was a label devised to market the Valley to others, Nelsen said.
"Even UT Pan American had a sunburst for its logo in those days," he said.
However, Nelsen said he and his wife Jody have come to know that the real magic in the Valley is its people.
"The true magic is in the dreams of parents who immigrate to this area to give their children a chance at an education. The magic comes from the alumni who remain connected to UT Pan American, who give back to help deserving students accomplish their dreams. The magic of the Valley comes from you, our graduates who will make this great Valley and this great state even greater," he said.
Speaker Garza: Embrace change
Garza, who graduated cum laude from The University of Texas at Austin in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in business administration, has more than 30 years experience in accounting and banking. He currently serves the community as chairman of the boards overseeing the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa and Anzalduas International Bridges, and was McAllen's mayor-pro tem from 2001-2005.
Garza told the students about the definition of success, the debt to society they now owe as graduates and the importance of embracing change.
"I have come to the conclusion that true success can only be defined in terms of happiness, so to be successful it is imperative that you seek out the job or vocation in the future that will make you happy and give you a complete sense of fulfillment," Garza said. "Do not let yourself get in the trap of defining success in the traditional sense, rather allow yourself the right to define it on your own terms. Otherwise, you will be living someone else's definition of success."
Graduates look back and ahead
Dallas native Kaitlin Vasquez, 22, included her 14 nieces and nephews in celebrating her graduation. She and the youngsters decorated her cap with glitter and flowers with letters spelling "YAY" cut out of various colors of foam. "They wanted to decorate my hat so the best thing to come up with was to put 'YAY' and then decorate it, she said. "I'm very excited to be graduating."
"UTPA is a great place to get your education," she said. "I liked the staff, they are very dedicated to helping the students."
Vasquez said she plans to earn her master's someday, but her more immediate plans are to return to Dallas and seek work as a psychology technician at a hospital.
Anna Munoz and Roberto Reyna, who earned their bachelor's degrees in Mexican-American Studies (MAS) at the morning ceremony, carried their pride in being Pan Am graduates on their boots, each one displaying a prominent UTPA logo. Reyna's father made the boots for them as a graduation present.
Munoz, 21, a first generation college student who attended 16 different schools growing up in a migrant farm working family, said graduating was "the best feeling ever" and she was grateful to UTPA's staff and faculty for the help they gave her during her undergraduate studies.
"I would like to give a special thanks to CAMP (College Assistance Migrant Program) for a wonderful freshman year experience. Because of that program I was able to meet some of my best friends for life. Dr. Stephanie Alvarez and Dr. Marci McMahon were my professors, mentors and main supporters during my studies. They always believed in me," she said.
She said the MAS program made her realize the importance of having knowledge of her heritage and fostered her desire to return to the Valley in the future to bring about changes in migrant education.
During her time at UTPA, Munoz was a member of Cosecha Voices, a Modern Languages and Literature project designed to assist migrant students to document and understand their migrant experience. Through that program, she had the opportunity to attend different conferences nationwide. In her junior year she was able to participate in the Learning to Lead program at the National Hispana Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. More recently, she and Reyna, who also participated in Cosecha Voices, were the first UTPA students ever to participate in a study abroad trip to Argentina.
Munoz received a $30,000 scholarship to attend the University of Michigan, where she will pursue a master's degree in educational studies with an emphasis in policy and leadership. Reyna, who earned his degree magna cum laude, is headed to graduate school at San Jose State University in California, where he will pursue a master's in Mexican American Studies.
Munoz said she intends to market her love of the Valley and her pride in being a UTPA alumna whenever she wears her boots.
"Every time I wear my boots and people ask what that logo is, I can say that is where I received my bachelor's," she said.
You can watch the summer 2011 commencement ceremonies here.