UTRGV’s fall commencement ceremonies kick off in Harlingen

  Friday, December 13, 2019
  Community, Around Campus

By Letty Fernandez

 PHOTO GALLERY by David Pike

HARLINGEN, TEXAS – Proud families and friends helped celebrate a major milestone for more than 580 graduates who walked on the first day, Dec. 13, of UTRGV’s fall commencement ceremonies at the Harlingen Convention Center.

The graduates took part in three separate ceremonies – 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Commencement for UTRGV continues Saturday, Dec. 14 in three ceremonies – 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. – at the Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg.

Over the two-day period, a total of 2,700 graduates are slated to graduate.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey and Dr. Patricia M. Alvarez McHatton, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, Student Success, and P-16 Integration, welcomed graduates and their support systems in the audience during the morning ceremony.

Bailey said it was an honor for him to be there to celebrate with the graduates.

“This is a real achievement for you and we deeply appreciate it. I know that your mothers and fathers do, as well,” Bailey said.

McHatton said graduation day is a special moment for the university, the community and, most especially, the graduates.

“Today we come together to celebrate a major accomplishment in the lives of our students and we celebrate their success,” McHatton said.

Also joining the festivities was Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (District 27), who addressed the graduates at all three ceremonies.

“It is a banner day for the graduates of the Class of 2019,” he said, “the ending of one chapter of your lives and the beginning of the rest of your story of leadership and success.”


Yvonne Rodriguez, of San Benito, walked in the morning ceremony and was also selected to ring the university’s bronze bell, symbolizing a rite of passage from one stage of life to a more distinguished stage.

Rodriguez is not your typical undergraduate student. A 43-year-old single mother to Al, now 19, she faced numerous challenges to get to graduation day. She had graduated from Harlingen South in 1995 and enrolled in college.

“It did not go well!” she recalls. “I ended up majorly messing up a few semesters at a few different colleges. So I decided to put college on hold and try my best to get through life. I became a mom at 23 and have struggled, living paycheck to paycheck my entire adult life.” 

Spring 2013 was an awakening for her, though. That’s when she realized she had to do better for her son and for herself. She enrolled at South Texas College in Weslaco, not really knowing what her major would be. While in college, she worked as substitute teacher and realized that teaching was her calling.

She enrolled at UTRGV in Fall 2016, juggling studies, paying bills, keeping food on the table and being an involved parent.

“I cried many nights, wanting to give up,” Rodriguez said. “There were times when I struggled with a class and felt I was too old to do this. But I’m thankful that I had great professors and classmates who took time to help and encourage me to not give up.

“I have to come to understand that time waits for no one and I’d either be another year older with no degree or another year closer to a degree. I had to keep pushing forward. And I’ve finally made it,” she said with pride.

Rodriguez earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies.

“I hope to be a symbol of encouragement for someone out there who is thinking of returning to school. I want people to know that it’s never too late to get an education,” she said. “No matter the setback, the comeback will be far greater.

This feeling of accomplishment is amazing and every struggle I had was worth it.”


Edelyn Barcena, a McAllen native, said she’s excited to start the next chapter of her life after earning a master’s in business.

Barcena, who took part in the noon ceremony in Harlingen decided to complete the Master of Business Administration Online program due to her busy schedule, and saw the program as a better fit for herself.

“I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, so obviously, working in a classroom setting wouldn’t be feasible. Everything with the program is online, and it made it a lot more accessible for me,” she said.

The program was fast paced, but the instructors were accessible and provided lots of guidance.

“It’s a great experience, overall, because you get to learn a lot about business in general. It may be faster than some might like, but if you’re invested in it, you can learn a lot from these courses,” she said.

“The education I received will definitely help me with my future career. My undergraduate degree was in biology, so I had no business background. Entering a new route of education was really interesting for me,” Barcena said.

The next step is finding a career in the hospitality industry, as working within the new UTRGV Hospitality and Tourism Program spiked her interest.

The three Harlingen ceremonies concluded with the traditional ringing of the University Bell by selected graduates. Rodriguez was joined by Viviana Garza at the 9 a.m. ceremony; at 1 p.m., bell ringers were Carlos Escobedo and Lessly Caraveo; at the 3 p.m. ceremony, Gabriela Azuara and Teresita de Jesus Silguero rang the bell.

For more information visit, https://www.utrgv.edu/commencement/.

Fall Commencemnt graduates congratulate each other
After the 9 a.m. ceremony graduates congratulate each other. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.