Graduates of The University of Texas-Pan American received encouraging news: more people with college degrees are finding work since the recession hit, and because they now have a college degree, they will earn far more than those who have only a high school diploma.
"Yes, the degrees matter, especially a degree from UT Pan American," Nelsen said. "Education is such a precious gift for the children of our Valley."
More than 1,600 students earned their degrees this spring. The educational journey was definitely a challenging and life changing one for graduate Maynor Zapata, who was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He became Dr. Zapata upon getting his pharmacy doctoral degree at the morning ceremony.
Zapata, who immigrated from Mexico with his parents and three siblings, was accepted into UTPA's Cooperative Pharmacy Program with The University of Texas at Austin, one of the top four pharmacy schools in the nation, while still a senior at Edinburg's Economedes High School. He worked many hours at local pharmacies and restaurants to help his family financially while not only meeting but excelling in the difficult academic obligations the pharmacy program requires said Lydia Aguilera, clinical assistant professor in the pharmacy program.
"I was feeling desperately tired and afraid I wasn't going to make it," he said. "But my family believed in me that I was going to be successful one day. I've always had a passion to help others so the sacrifices that my family and I made were well worth it. I know I'm going to be a great fit for the community where I'm going to work."
Zapata will soon start his job as a well paid pharmacist at a Walgreen's in Austin. The six other pharmacy school graduates also already have jobs, those all in the Valley.
"Our graduates are valuable, they are culturally sensitive, speak the language and understand the Hispanic community," Aguilera said.
UTPA alum Ruben O. Villarreal (BS '86), mayor of Rio Grande City and a nearly 30-year business owner and co-manager of Grande Butane, spoke at the morning ceremony not just about the graduates' personal achievement of gaining a college degree but what they will do for the community.
"Sometimes it is what you leave behind for your community, as far as your service or the organizations that you have been a part of or the projects you have assisted that is an investment that can definitely pay in the future for your children, and their children and their children after that," he said.
He called what they learned at UTPA, a "world class education" and asked them what having an education meant to them.
"This University helped me change in a very positive way. Pan Am taught me to think. It is a tool to make your life better," said Villarreal, who told them to not to be afraid to take on challenges. "Don't dare to be different, don't dare to be special, just dare."
The University started a new tradition at these ceremonies by having its international students wear stoles representing the home countries as part of their graduation attire. About 40 students representing 13 countries received their degrees Saturday.
At the 1 p.m. ceremony, Joe Brown (BBA '84), president and CEO of Border Capital Bank in McAllen, praised graduates for their decision to pursue higher education and earn a degree and challenged them to continue making good decisions and give back to their community.
"You are now a product of the Rio Grande Valley and The University of Texas-Pan American," Brown said. "You are our mental capital, some of our best and brightest. Even as we wish you future success, we are hopeful that some of that success will take place here in the communities of the Rio Grande Valley."
Robert Franco Jr. (BBA '78), senior vice president of commercial banking for Texas Capital Bank in Austin and the keynote speaker at the 5 p.m. ceremony, talked about how he worked hard to become the first person in his family to graduate with a college degree. He encouraged graduates to set goals and follow them, but be flexible to respond to challenges to meet their destination. His final piece of advice to Broncs was to "show up."
"Good things don't necessarily happen to those who wait, good things happen to those who show up," said Franco, who was recently appointed to the Texas Economic Development Corporation. "Don't be afraid. Show up and participate." Each ceremony ended with UTPA's Mariachi Aztlán performing in honor of Mother's Day, which is celebrated on May 10 in Mexico and the second Sunday in May in the United States, which fell on May 12 this year.
See more photos of all three Spring 2013 commencement ceremonies here.