Monday, May 10, 2021
  Around Campus

By Dimitra Trejo

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – After four demanding years of classwork, labs, research, hospital rotations, and more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, 51 medical students and seven Master of Science in Bioethics students persevered to earn their degrees from the UTRGV School of Medicine on Saturday night at the Brownsville Campus.

This is the second cohort to graduate from the School of Medicine since its establishment in 2013.

One graduate, who is proud to call herself “Doctor” is Sonya Montes, from Brownsville, who said working toward her medical degree has been the most rewarding yet challenging experience of her life.

“There have been many ups and downs throughout my medical school journey,” she said. “But my faith, perseverance, and determination to succeed are what got me through it. The risks, sacrifices, rejections, late nights, and my commitment were not in vain.”

Montes, who is headed to the internal medicine residency program at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, said she and her classmates have overcome unique challenges, brought on by the pandemic, to make it to commencement day.

“During the pandemic I had doubts, like many others, that my medical education would be delayed,” Montes said. “I was faced with many uncertainties during this time as there were many unknowns. I am thankful for the advancements in science and the opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as well.”

In his remarks to the Class of 2021, John Krouse, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine and executive vice president for Health Affairs, congratulated the graduates on their major milestone even when life’s turns can be unexpected.

“Our School of Medicine, along with 154 other schools of medicine in the U.S. and Canada, began an uncharted journey to address the new reality,” Krouse said. “But there is one clear lesson in this event – no matter how well you plan, or practice, or prepare – life can and will throw you curve balls.”

“We must, therefore, all remain flexible to change yet grounded in our education, our families, and our cultures so that we can draw on those foundational skills and principles, and can succeed in the face of adversity.”

M. Roy Wilson, M.D., M.S., president of Wayne State University and keynote speaker at the ceremony, also provided some words of encouragement to the new doctors, of whom some will remain in the Valley to serve the community. 

“It’s now 15 months since the beginning of the pandemic, and you’ve endured, you’ve persevered,” he said. “You are now entering medicine at a time of unprecedented opportunity, when the reasons you chose medicine and chose this medical school specifically – the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine – will be affirmed and on full display, when you will confront head-on – on behalf of society and its people, particularly its marginalized people – the greatest public health challenge of the century.”

Dr. Leonel Vela, the School of Medicine’s senior associate dean for Educational Resources and senior associate vice president for Education, applauded the class and the School of Medicine community that dedicated its time and efforts to preparing the graduates for the next phase of their medical training.

“Seeing the Class of 2021 students successfully complete their medical school journey and prepare to transition into their residency programs brings a great sense of joy and fulfillment,” said Vela.

The graduates will now head to their respected residency programs including Dr. D'Andrea Rashaun Ceasar, from Houston, who will be training at UT Health McGovern Medical School in anesthesiology.

“Medical school has been a faith-filled journey,” she said. “One that truly taught me the meaning of believing in my purpose and not losing hope. I’m now going to start the next phase of my life and my career. The UTRGV School of Medicine showed me that anything is possible and that my voice matters, and I am a better leader and future physician.”

More than half of ​the graduates will stay in Texas for their residencies. In all, 29 of the 51 matched to programs in Texas, and nine will participate in residency programs in the Rio Grande Valley.


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.