UTRGV Fall 2022 Commencement

  Friday, December 16, 2022
  Around Campus, Awards and Recognitions

By News and Internal Communications

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – This holiday season, more than 2,000 UTRGV graduates received early gifts – their degrees and the start of a new life chapter – during the first day of Fall 2022 Commencement. 

Family and loved ones showed their excitement Friday with cheers and applause, as their graduates walked the stage at Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg during three ceremonies – 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

grads celebrate
Approximately 2,000 UTRGV graduates participated in the first day of Fall 2022 Commencement. The day included three ceremonies – 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. – at Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

UTRGV President Guy Bailey reinforced the holiday theme, telling graduating Vaqueros that education is a gift that can, and will, change their lives.

“When you leave today, give your parents a hug. Your spouse, your children, your grandparents – everybody who helped you with this degree – because it is truly a collective degree. And with your degree, you will impact not just your future, but theirs as well, and the future of your children. 

“That's a great thing about higher education,” he said. “It's a gift that goes on giving. It lasts forever, and it will affect you, your family, your friends.”

The university’s Fall 2022 Commencement ceremonies continue at 4 p.m. Saturday on the Brownsville Campus, where more than 600 Vaqueros will take part in an outdoor ceremony.

A combined total of 2,660 graduates are receiving degrees from UTRGV this weekend.

‘One step closer to my dream’
Maricela Gonzalez, building attendant I and night custodian at UTRGV, took the day off to watch her daughter, Vanessa Gonzalez, walk across the stage on Friday to earn her master’s degree in clinical psychology.

She said it was the best feeling in the world to see her baby girl pick up her degree.

Me siento muy orgullosa de mi hija (I am very proud of my daughter),” Maricela said. “This is a big deal for us.”

Vanessa, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UTRGV in 2017, said that earning her master's degree this Fall means so much to her as she was able to stay on track and overcome any difficulties that arose during the pandemic.

“Earning this degree means that I am one step closer to my dreams of helping our community by providing mental health services and providing a better future for my family,” Vanessa said.

Vanessa thanked her mother, sisters – San Juana, Marisol and Gabriela Gonzalez – close friends and mentor –Dr. Ruby Charak, associate professor and the director of the UTRGV Adversities in Childhood and Trauma Studies (ACT) Lab – who provided her with support throughout her educational journey, she said.

“I would like to thank my mom for her love, support, patience and unwavering belief in me. Without her I would have become full of self-doubt and may have been tempted many times to simply give up,” Vanessa said. “My mom supported me so much and accomplished her own dream of earning her GED this summer. Seeing how hard she worked and how far she has come inspired me to keep going.”

Dr. Janna Arney and graduate
Dr. Janna Arney, UTRGV deputy president, presents a graduate with his degree on Friday, Dec. 16. A combined total of 2,660 graduates are receiving degrees this weekend, Dec. 16-17, in Edinburg and Brownsville. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

Working two jobs – on and off campus – to help support her family and pay for her degree, Vanessa said working toward her master’s degree was difficult at times, but worth it in the end. She mentioned a great thing about attending and working at UTRGV was that she was able to see her mother at the end of her night classes where she could decompress and talk about how her class went.

“My graduate degree journey was a great experience with many challenges. Although there were times I struggled, I appreciate every moment and cherish all the memories I have made with friends, professors, mentors and supervisors,” Vanessa said.

What’s next for Vanessa? She will study for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology and take it next year to earn her license and work as a Licensed Psychological Associate. In the future, she hopes to apply to PhD programs in clinical psychology.

A champion in jiu jitsu and the classroom

Lorena Balli, originally from Weslaco who lives in McAllen, said she never imagined working toward her Master of Public Administration (MPA) and competing in over 20 jiu jitsu tournaments nationally during a pandemic. Balli said that was a valuable time for self-reflection for her.

“With jiu jitsu being a very large part of my life, I decided to fully commit myself to training and practiced more than I ever had before. But jiu jitsu was not my only goal,” Balli said. “Another goal I had created for myself was earning a master’s degree to sharpen my professional skills.”

While competing and going to school, Balli achieved a No. 1 ranking in 2021 for the jiu jitsu purple belt in the women’s division and won a Pan American gold medal.

“While I had some flexibility in my school schedule with not having to physically be in a classroom, achieving my jiu jitsu goals while being a student was still not an easy task,” Balli said. “It all came down to extreme time management and squeezing out every moment of spare time to study, write papers, study jiu jitsu and train.”

Family and friends celebrate with their UTRGV graduate after the 9 a.m. ceremony in Edinburg on Friday, Dec. 16.
Family and friends celebrate with their UTRGV graduate after the 9 a.m. ceremony in Edinburg on Friday, Dec. 16. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

She credits her son, Jonas, and her parents for helping her get to commencement day. In addition, she is thankful to her jiu jitsu family – made up of teammates, coaches and fellow female jiu jitsu athletes, many of whom are full-time working moms. 

“My son will always be my biggest motivator. I hope that he uses my experiences as an example of life’s greatest rewards coming because of hard work and sacrifice,” she said.

While working on her degree, Balli said she discovered a love and interest for policy and program evaluation work, and she is currently seeking employment in either of those areas. She plans to take a small break and focus on finding full-time work as well as continue to teach jiu jitsu classes to both adults and children.

“What I value the most about holding an MPA degree is the fulfillment of serving my community in the future. I’m looking forward to navigating the waters of public service to ultimately find the perfect way to blend my education and professional skillset into the jiu jitsu world for the better,” she said.

Ringing in success

One graduate thrilled about his journey is John Medrano, who was chosen as one of nine bell ringers for commencement weekend. Ringing the bell signifies the end of the event and has become a symbol for UTRGV, one of the universities traditions demonstrating student pride to all in attendance.

“As this semester’s bell ringer, I feel it recognizes the hard work and dedication we as students have faced together throughout the years in college,” Medrano said. 

Bell ringers
Bell ringers Natalia De la Garza and John Medrano ring the ceremonial bell to proclaim the completion of degrees and the start of a new chapter in the lives of graduates. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

The theatre major rang the ceremonial bell at the 9 a.m. ceremony. His education and love of acting is ongoing, he said; he recently was admitted into the UTRGV Master of Business Administration program.

“I will be able to continue my education as a graduate student, and I'll also continue my time as an actor for the upcoming production of ‘Picasso at the Lapin Agile’ that premieres in Spring 2023,” he said.

Medrano said he is ready to embrace his future and can’t wait to see what lies ahead. His advice to future and current Vaqueros: “If you have a dream, go after it.”

Fall 2022 Commencement continues in Brownsville on Saturday at 4 p.m. with graduates from all the colleges participating in the ceremony.

For more information on Fall 2022 Commencement, visit www.utrgv.edu/commencement/.


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.