UTRGV Spring Commencement in Brownsville marks first full academic year

The UTRGV Spring 2016 Commencement was held on the Student Union Lawn of the Brownsville Campus on Friday. May 13, with UTRGV President Guy Bailey presenting diplomas to the graduates. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

BROWNSVILLE CAMPUS COMMENCEMENT PHOTO GALLERY: https://www.flickr.com/gp/utrgvnews/dS280U 

By Cheryl Taylor 

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – MAY 13, 2016 – Parents, grandparents, children, friends and family attended the first Spring Commencement ceremony at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Friday evening on the Brownsville Campus.

A total of 3,126 UTRGV students will receive degrees this semester, including 796 from the Brownsville Campus.

“This is a historic moment for our university and our communities, and especially for our graduates,” said Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. “We are one university distributed throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Today, we come together to celebrate a major accomplishment in the lives of our students; today, we celebrate their success.”

UTRGV’s Founding President, Dr. Guy Bailey welcomed the guests and congratulated the graduates on their achievements, then summoned a member of the stage party, Valley native Gene Powell, to join him at the podium to present him with the UTRGV medallion.

“In 2009, Gene was appointed to a six-year term to The University of Texas System Board of Regents by Gov. Rick Perry,” Bailey said. “He served as Chairman of the Board from 2011 through 2013. Gene has often said he feels very fortunate to have been chair of the Board of Regents when UTRGV was created.”

In accepting the gift, Powell said he was proud of the Board of Regents – and thanked Regent Ernest Aliseda, who was among the stage party – and reminded the audience of the Texas Legislature’s unusual vote to approve creation of the new university.

“In order to get it passed, we had to have a 2/3 vote in the House and the Senate – and we actually got 100 percent from both in favor of forming UTRGV,” Powell said.

Rodríguez then introduced another member of the stage party, Emily Jimenez.

“As part of our strong partnership with our local media organizations, we are privileged to have Ms. Emily Jimenez, KVEO News Center 23 anchor and reporter, as our announcer this evening. Thank you, Ms. Jimenez for donating your time to our students and this event.”

Included among the many and varied degrees bestowed during the program were two Doctor of Education degrees, awarded to Jose Angel Banda and Stanley Shane Snelson.

Among the master’s degree recipients were Brownsville native Anel Alonso and Heba Ouda from Eau Claire, Wisc.

Alonso earned her Master of Public Policy and Management, a degree she hopes to use by managing a healthcare facility or directing a non-profit organization. 

“I have my family to thank – they’ve instilled in me the value of a good education, especially my grandfather,” Alonso said. “Due to financial hardships, and being the oldest of 10 children, he was pulled out of the second grade and forced to start working to help take care of his family.  My grandfather has helped me realize that the opportunities for me are endless. He has also given me the drive and determination to carry forward and pursue the education he longed for.”

Ouda was an online student who came to Brownsville from Wisconsin to receive her Master of Science in Mathematics.

“This is my first time to visit Brownsville,” said Ouda, who hopes to teach mathematics at a nearby community college. “My husband and I came for this special moment, and our family is watching the ceremony at home on the live-streaming. I was very pleased with my online classes. My professors were always available and very helpful.”

Another who had family members attend the ceremony from far away was Master of Education graduate Danica Markovic, whose parents were visiting from their home in Serbia. This was their second commencement ceremony in Brownsville, having visited their daughter when she received her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College.

Harlingen native Forrest Shriver graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Physics. Shriver finished high school and his first two years of college at the Math and Science Academy two years ago. Now 20 years old, he leaves soon for Gainesville, Florida, where he has been accepted into the Ph.D. program in nuclear engineering at the University of Florida.

Brownsville native Stephanie Sanchez obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Government and History. She plans to continue her education with an eye on working in international law and international relations.

Sanchez said she is grateful to have received financial aid, and a few scholarships, every semester and made sure she took as many credits as possible to maximize her finances.

“I look up to my eldest brother because he taught me to take responsibility for whatever actions I take, and to learn and grow from the consequences,” Sanchez said. “I think students need to know and understand that in college they are responsible for themselves and their education, and they should take advantage of that opportunity.” 

After the last graduate had accepted a diploma, Rodríguez called Judith Mireles and Ixel De La Fuente to the stage to represent the graduating class and ring the celebratory bronze bell, made circa 1850.

“Ringing this stately bell symbolizes a rite of passage and proclaims that an outstanding individual has passed from one station in their life to a new and distinguished stage in their life,” Rodríguez said.

The tradition of decorating graduation caps with personal messages and images was in evidence at the UTRGV Brownsville Campus commencement ceremony on Friday evening, as graduates shared their thanks, their hopes and their dreams via mortarboard. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

The tradition of decorating graduation caps with personal messages and images was in evidence at the UTRGV Brownsville Campus commencement ceremony on Friday evening, as graduates shared their thanks, their hopes and their dreams via mortarboard. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications

Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations