UTRGV Celebrates Commencement 2020

  Friday, May 29, 2020
  Student Life, Around Campus

By Maria Elena Hernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – There is to be no graduation regalia or commencement walk this semester for 24-year-old UTRGV graduate Jeremy Schmatz, of McAllen. But the pride his father has for him needs neither crowds nor gowns.

“He's my hero,” Jeff Schmatz said of his son, who earns a bachelor's degree in a virtual commencement on Saturday, May 30. “If you would have told me this day would come when he was 8 years old, I would have never believed it."

That’s because when Jeremy was 8, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“It was a ‘good’ brain tumor to have, but absolutely in the worst place to have it. It was right in the center of his brain,” Jeff said.

So, Jeremy, at just 8 years of age, had to learn to walk again. And he had forgotten many words.

“It was like somebody bulk erasing his vocabulary,” the elder Schmatz said.

While they hoped for the best, those were “dark days,” and he has watched his son overcome many challenges along the way.



When Jeremy enrolled at UTRGV, he knew he would major in criminal justice; and he minored in history. He has been a long-time fan of the TV show “Law & Order” and loves true crime shows on Investigation Discovery.

On campus, Jeremy turned to UTRGV Student Accessibility Services for class accommodations to help with some physical limitations.

“They opened doors for him,” Jeff said. “Probably 99 percent of the students on the campus don't even know they exist. But for those who need them, they're phenomenal people, amazing people. They really care.”

RELATED LINK: UTRGV Student Accessibility Services not limited to students with physical disabilities 

One of Jeremy’s classes was an internship at a local law enforcement office.

“It was pretty interesting. I did ride-alongs. I went into the training academy," Jeremy said.

Outside of class, he also joined the McAllen Police Department's Citizen Police Academy.

Even with those activities and his schoolwork, he still had time to help others – specifically another UTRGV student.

His dad.

Jeff Schmatz and Jeremy Schmatz
Twenty-four-year-old UTRGV graduate Jeremy Schmatz, of McAllen, and his father, Jeff, will both graduate on Saturday, May 30, during UTRGV's first ever Virtual Commencement. Jeremy will receive a bachelor's degree in criminal justice while Jeff earns a master's degree in business administration. (Courtesy Photos)


Jeremy isn’t the only Schmatz completing a degree this semester: Jeff also graduates on Saturday, with a master's degree in business administration.

After 30 years of running his own business, he didn't expect problems in learning about the subject. That is, until he opened his first book and saw the first question.

“Algebra,” Schmatz said.

So, he called his son Jeremy for help.

“He literally had to tutor me and get me up to speed on algebra,” he said. “If he hadn't done it, I probably would have failed the first course. And I probably would have given up and that would have been it.”

But Jeff continued with the online accelerated program.

“What I found interesting, as I got into it, is how many students were not from the Valley, not from Texas," he said.

His online classmates included a banker from Boston, a physician in Maryland, and international students. His fellow students varied in work experience and age.



“I took the mantle. I didn't mind being the old guy in the class,” said Jeff, who completed his undergraduate degree 40 years ago this month.

When he asked his fellow classmates to imagine starting a business without cell phones, Wi-Fi, the internet, or computers, one of them thought he was talking about the 1950s. He actually was talking about the 1980s.

“It took a while to learn how to learn and work with the people coming straight out of undergrad, because their perspective on life and work and businesses is totally different,” the veteran business owner admits. “It was a good learning experience, because that's what you face in the real world.”

Father and son scholars were looking forward to participating in a UTRGV commencement ceremony together this May. But while the university is holding a virtual commencement on May 30, the Schmatz family has decided to postpone celebrations until they can be joined by more relatives.

“Given the circumstances, as other people are suffering, we'll make our own graduation and make the best of it,” Jeff said.


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.