Fall 2021 Commencement

  Wednesday, December 8, 2021
  Around Campus

By Letty Fernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The road to commencement for 14 UTRGV nursing students from Brownsville began in January 2020, just two months before COVID-19 changed everything.

After being accepted into the highly competitive nursing program, their classes went from in-person learning to a virtual environment.

“We called ourselves the COVID class,” said Gabriel Mascorro, 23, who says he wanted to become a nurse to help people when they need help the most. “I never imagined the shutdown would last so long. We all thought it would be temporary.” 

Temporary turned into 17 long months – from mid-March 2020 to August 2021 – with the nursing students meeting with their professors online three times a week – for a lecture once a week and labs twice each week. Students did their clinicals at area hospitals, but they worked only non-COVID floors, and were always masked and wearing face shields.

Nurse Margaret Rubi, MSN, RN, a clinical assistant professor of nursing in the UTRGV School of Nursing, said the situation was hardly ideal, but they found creative ways to do what needed to be done. 

“Teaching nursing is a hands-on discipline,” she said, “and it is ‘virtually’ impossible to teach online, especially lab skills. The challenges were daunting, as they had to adapt to new schedules every week.”

In their first semester, nursing students take two important courses – Assessment, and Fundamentals – that provide the foundation for every course they will take throughout the demanding nursing program and on into their nursing career. The only option COVID-19 left them was to do everything they could online, and not sacrifice learning or quality. Hence, an intensive, three-day lab skills marathon session, in which the nursing students had to be masked, gowned and gloved – all online.

“They rolled with the punches, and they excelled in all areas. They will have many stories to tell their children: ‘Let me tell you about when I got my nursing degree during a pandemic in 2020,’” Rubi quipped.

Even before COVID arrived, some of the nursing students already were meeting in study groups – at coffee shops, restaurants, wherever they could. After the shutdown, they continued to meet, only via Zoom.


Often, the nursing students would study for hours every day. But Mascorro, who was working part-time at Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, had to wedge in reading and studying every and any chance he could. 

“We would all collaborate to do the work,” he said. “We had our laughs, and we also had our moments when we all cried because we were so overwhelmed by how much material we had to do to take the exam.

“We had those moments, but we had each other’s back, to help pick each other up,” he said.

Fast forward to August 2021. It was their last semester of classes and they returned to face-to-face sessions. They were able, at long last, to take part in clinicals at area hospitals, and helped out at many of the COVID vaccination clinics.  

Their UTRGV professors said the class made it through and succeeded because of their commitment and dedication. 

“I now look back at all those moments of failure and success and how that emotional rollercoaster of a ride brought me to this point,” Mascorro said. “If it wasn’t for my girlfriend, my family, my classmates, my co-workers and my friends, I would never have made it to where I am now – about to graduate.” 

Mascorro and his classmates will take part in UTRGV’s Fall Commencement on Friday, Dec. 10, on the Brownsville Campus. They will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, many of them with honors.

The next step after graduation is to prepare for the National Council Licensing Examination (NCLEX), which they must pass to earn a license to become a registered nurse.

“There are so many doors that can open for me once I graduate,” Mascorro said, “but the most important thing for me was to learn as much as I could to become the best nurse I can be.”  


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.