Friday, December 15, 2023
  Around Campus, Community

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The time has finally come.

Nearly 3,000 Vaqueros are graduating this semester, marking a landmark 50,000 graduates to date since the first University of Texas Rio Grande Valley commencement in 2015.

The first 642 grads of Fall 2023 walked the commencement stage in an outdoor ceremony on the Brownsville Campus today, Dec. 15, with family and friends celebrating graduates from across all colleges at UTRGV.

This ceremony was the first for Dr. Luis Zayas, UTRGV’s new provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, who was on hand to address the Class of 2023.

UTRGV fall 2023 commencement graduate with family
Family and friends celebrated seeing their graduates accept their degrees during UTRGV's Fall 2023 Commencement. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

“Graduates, today is really about celebrating your hard work, your dedication and your resiliency with all with those who have loved you and supported you throughout this journey,” he said.

And for all of you who supported our graduates in their journey, remember that you own a piece of the degree ­we're conferring today. It's not just your graduate’s degree, it's yours, too. The support that you have provided has made today possible.”

UTRGV President Guy Bailey told the graduates their vision for their success means success for the Valley and global community.

“You had a destination, a goal, in mind. A big goal. And you persisted, you stuck with it, and you're here today.” he said. “You're joining 50,000 other students who have graduated from UTRGV in about nine years. That's the size of a city! Our graduates could populate a city. Think about the value to the Rio Grande Valley.”

Bailey said they are well educated, but also are well grounded in their culture.

“It's a culture of gratitude for being appreciative for the opportunities you've had, and you've made the best of them,” Bailey said. “It's a culture of hard work, it's a culture rooted in families. Remember where you came from, give back to where you came from, and you're going to be a great success in life.”

Students at UTRGV fall 2023 commencement
More than 600 students received their degrees at the Fall 2023 commencement in Brownsville. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)



Diane Aceves, 26, is a 2015 graduate of Brownsville Veteran’s Early College High School, who just accepted her bachelor’s degree in Psychology at UTRGV.

After high school, she attended community college and became a medical assistant. After working for two years, she decided pursuing a bachelor’s degree was her next goal.

“I wanted to accomplish something for myself. I wanted to do greater things,” Aceves said. “I also wanted to make my mom proud.”

Her mother, Delmy Hernandez, is from El Salvador, and Aceves, the youngest of the siblings, is the first one to graduate from a university.

“My mom and my family have been my motivators,” she said. “It's been a long journey.”

Aceves hopes to pursue a graduate degree from a UT System school and become a licensed counseling professional.

Student and family at the Fall 2023 commencement
Family and friends celebrated seeing their graduates accept their degrees during UTRGV's Fall 2023 Commencement. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)


Estela De La Garza, program manager of Engaged Scholarship and Learning in the Office of Student Success at UTRGV, is accepting her second master’s degree this semester, after completing the inaugural Master of Arts in Higher Education Administration program.

This feat comes right on the heels of completing a Master of Business Administration in Spring 2022. A loyal alumna, she got her undergraduate degree in 2011 from UTRGV legacy institution UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College.

“I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I decided to apply for the opportunity to earn the degree,” De La Garza said. “As a higher education professional, the program allowed me more insight at an administrative level and increased my desire to serve in a leadership role on campus.”

De La Garza, who has been with the university for 15 years, is excited to not only be graduating, again, but to be doing so with many of her colleagues at UTRGV.

“This is the first time I have graduated with students that I know on a more personal and professional level,” she said. “When earning my MBA, and even my undergraduate degree, I did not know anyone. This degree holds special meaning because of the relationships created along the way.”

More than 600 students received their degrees at the Fall 2023 commencement in Brownsville. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)


Tom Gomez Jr., who teaches government at Porter Early College High School in Brownsville, also is receiving his third degree from UTRGV. He previously had earned two bachelor’s degrees – 10 years apart – from UTRGV legacy institution UTB/TSC.

Gomez has spent most of his career working in education, teaching a range of grade levels. He wanted to expand his classroom knowledge to keep up with current expansions and developments in technology.

“I was not a tech guy at all,” Gomez said. “During the height of the pandemic, everyone went virtual out of necessity. I spent much of my downtime learning the new applications being used in my district, and I started to help people around me adapt to the new learning environment.

“Once everyone returned in person, I was reassigned to the remote learning program and spent three years in the virtual environment. I saw the shift in education toward distance learning and hybrid education. When I was presented with the opportunity to study education technology in the remote learning environment. I decided to take a chance.”

His father, Tomas Gomez, was a huge motivating factor in Tom Jr. completing his degree: The senior Gomez died in February this year, while his son was still in his graduate program.

Gomez said he hopes to continue to honor his father by pursing a doctoral degree in the future.

“My father was always pushing me to continue school,” Gomez said. “He would say, ‘Another feather in your cap.’”


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.