UTRGV graduates inaugural class of Vaqueros

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley began the first of seven Spring Commencement ceremonies Friday morning in Brownsville, highlighted by the graduation of its “First Class” students, those who were part of the university’s inaugural freshman class when UTRGV opened its doors on Aug. 31, 2015.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey congratulated all the graduates on their accomplishments, and noted the special silver medallion strung on a white ribbon which features the Vaqueros mascot beneath the “First Class” designation that was awarded to the 1,000 graduates from that initial first cohort.

“You started on an adventure in 2015, and none of us knew exactly how all this would work out,” Bailey said. “This was a brand new endeavor, and we are so proud of you and what you achieved.”

Bailey also recognized the legacy graduates who began their college experience at the University of Texas at Brownsville and the University of Texas-Pan American campus.

“For those who started with our legacy institutions, we are equally proud of you,” Bailey said. “You are all our children.”

Arturo C. Olivarez was among the Friday afternoon First Class graduates, receiving a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Accounting.

“For me, the medallion is symbolic of the evolution of the Rio Grande Valley, being able to overcome the challenges of getting a quality education here, and feeling really prepared to go out into the world,” Oilvarez said.

The Valley native, whose minor was political science, is mulling over whether or not to continue on to law school, furthering his interest, and eventual plan one day to end up in Washington, D.C., serving in Congress.

“I chose UTRGV because I felt that it encompasses our local identity and celebrates our diversity,” Olivarez said. For the immediate future, Olivarez already has a job offer from Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLC in San Antonio.

Victoria Celeste Martinez was one of two First Class graduates at the Friday afternoon commencement ceremony given the honor of ringing the stately bronze bell, circa 1850. The bell is the icon for the Bell Scholarship endowment, and is rung during the commencement ceremony to symbolize a rite of passage, proclaiming that “a worthy and well-qualified individual has passed from one station in their life to a better one.”

“I was very involved on campus as an advisor, and on the student council,” Martinez says, “and I’m a legacy — both of my parents are alumni of UTB.”

Martinez, from Los Fresnos, received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, ESL, and hopes to continue at UTRGV as a student advisor.

“UTRGV was always my first choice,” Martinez said.

Another First Class member, Izaac Estrada, is originally from central Texas, where his father was stationed at Fort Hood. His family relocated to the Rio Grande Valley when he was 15.

“I selected UTRGV to further my education because it’s close to home,” Estrada said, “and I’m looking forward to my new position as a manager-trainee for Sherman Williams in Mission.”

Estrada received a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management, and is considering a return to UTRGV “sometime” in the future to pursue a master’s degree in Project Management.

At the end of his remarks, Bailey urged students to recognize that although UTRGV had given them a great foundation, the graduates should not be defined by what happened during their time at the university, but rather by what they accomplish over the next 40 years.

“Experience will be your teacher for the rest of your life,” Bailey said, “and it is a hard teacher, but the lesson is the test itself.”

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, which welcomed its freshman class in 2016.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley, including Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grand City and South Padre Island, which makes 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.

More than 3,400 students will graduate over this weekend at UTRGV Spring Commencement ceremonies in Brownsville, continuing throughout today at the McAllen Convention Center for students based at the West Valley UTRGV Campuses.