2,844 Vaqueros earn degrees during Edinburg commencement ceremonies

  Saturday, December 16, 2023
  Academics, Community, Around Campus, Student Spotlight

By Karen Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS –  Like many first-generation students, Amy Galván says her graduation is a tribute to her family.

“My parents are so proud of me, and I'm just so thankful for everything they did for me,” said Galván, who completed her master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS) this fall semester. “They left their families in Mexico City so that I could do this.” 

Still, she didn’t expect to be overcome with emotion while she was picking up her graduation cap and stole at the university bookstore in the days before graduation. With tears rolling down her face, she said her parents were coming from Houston to see her walk the stage in her regalia as part of the UTRGV Graduating Class of 2023.

“I owe it all to them,” said Galván, who had completed her undergraduate degree at Baylor University before coming to UTRGV.

UTRGV students graduating
Approximately 2,844 Vaqueros walked the stage on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Bert Ogden Arena to celebrate the second day of Fall 2023 Commencement ceremonies. During this commencement UTRGV surpasses 50,000 graduates to date since its first ceremonies in 2015. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

“The MPAS program here provides volunteer and clinical rotation opportunities throughout the predominantly Hispanic Rio Grande Valley,” she said. That access helped support her next step – going out into the workforce to start practicing medicine.

“I hope I can be a role model to people who are going through similar experiences,” she said.


Fall 2023 Commencement was a landmark graduation for the university, too, with 2,844 new grads surpassing a milestone 50,000 graduates since UTRGV opened its doors in 2015.  

The university’s two days of Fall 2023 commencement programs began Friday, Dec. 15, with a 9 a.m. ceremony on the Brownsville Campus Main Lawn. In that ceremony, 492 students earned their undergraduate degrees, 139 were awarded a master’s degree, and 11 received a doctoral degree.

Three more ceremonies were held Saturday at the Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg for 2,202 graduates – including 598 master’s and 23 doctoral recipients.

UTRGV president guy bailey at graduation ceremony
UTRGV President Guy Bailey congratulated the graduating students during the morning commencement ceremony at the Bert Ogden Arena. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

UTRGV President Dr. Guy Bailey congratulated the graduates on their accomplishment andthanked them for their contribution to UTRGV’s recent success in various national rankings.

You brought a culture with you, and that culture is very important to your success and to our success as an institution. A culture that's deeply rooted in family,” he said. Your families taught you hard work. They taught you to be thankful for what you got, to take advantage of it, and to move forward.”

He said he looks forward to seeing the graduates stay rooted in that culture, and with the educational tools developed at UTRGV, lead successful lives.

Remember, this ceremony isn't the end,” he said. “It’s called Commencement - it's the beginning.

Provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, Dr. Luis H. Zayas, said the occasion celebrates the graduates’ hard work, dedication, and resiliency – with those who have loved and supported them throughout their journey. “Graduates, you are the product of your amazing support system and communities,” Zayas said. “You are here today because of the love of so many friends and family.”

He encouraged the graduates to continue the tradition of presenting their memory stole to a special contributor, as a symbol of gratitude and appreciation for their support, inspiration, and mentorship.


Class of ’23 graduate Jeweleen Reuille said her father and older sister, Briauna, were in from out of town to attend her commencement ceremony on Saturday.

UTRGV graduating students
Approximately 2,844 Vaqueros walked the stage on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Bert Ogden Arena to celebrate the second day of Fall 2023 Commencement ceremonies. (UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy)

Reuille, 23, was recruited to the UTRGV Women’s Soccer team and played #26 – winger – in all 18 matches in the 2022-23 year. She got her first goal of the season against the Prairie View A&M Panthers in September, with the game ending in a 5-0 victory for the UTRGV Vaqueros.

She enjoyed pursuing her Bachelor of Multidisciplinary Studies degree at UTRGV, she said, and at the same time made good friends and learned about the business side of the sports world.

“I especially love the weather here,” said Reuille, who is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. “Overall, I love the Valley, and Texas.”

Reuille said the interdisciplinary program allowed her to merge several interests, and she was able to graduate with minors in both Business Management and Psychology.

“I’m thinking about continuing to a master’s program,” she said. “As a graduate assistant, I’d be able to coach.”


Leslie Flores, 25, always knew she would graduate from college.

“I’m the first one in my family – ever. It was set in stone that I had to go to school,” she said. “My parents told me, ‘Everything else can come and go, but your education is the one thing you’ll always have with you.’” 

The Sullivan City native transferred from STC into UTRGV’s education program. She realized teaching wasn’t for her, though, and explored other majors.

“I knew I had found the right one for me when I started taking the environmental science classes,” she said. “I’ve done water, soil – everything. I loved it all.”

As her education expanded, so did her personal life.

“I had just come to UTRGV when I had my daughter, Amelia,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can’t stop now. I need to do better, for her. She’s the reason I’m doing this.’”

She worked hard to strike a delicate balance between her studies and wanting to spend all her time with her new baby.

“It was all so worth it,” she said.

Amelia is now 2 years old, watching with her dad and grandparents as her mother walks the stage to accept her Bachelor of Science degree.

Flores said she’s not sure what her next step is, but she hopes she can find a position in environmental analysis. She also wants to get her master’s degree.

“I have the bachelor’s degree now,” she said. “That’s what matters going forward!”


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.