One West University Boulevard, Brownsville, Texas 78520 | 956-882-8200

Saturday, May 15, 2010
Mary Rose Cardenas Hall South Lawn


[Introduction by Dr. Juliet García, president of The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College]

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I am Juliet García, and I have the honor of serving as the president of The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. Welcome to Spring Commencement.

This marks the 18th Spring Commencement at our community university, and your graduating class is almost 900 students strong. When you add to that the students who graduated in December, we have awarded more than 2,100 degrees in this year.

When we begin our individual student recognitions, you will be seeing something very unique. Because of our partnership between The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, we are able to award many different kinds of credentials including certificates, associate degrees, baccalaureate degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.

A student may come here a bit undecided about which path to choose and progress through each level of learning as he discovers his own potential.

Ana Gaytan is one of those students. Today, we will award Ana our very first associate degree in our new pre-architecture program.

Raised in Matamoros, Ana studied painting and drawing over the years and began her career in higher education as a student in our Computer-Aided Drafting Technology certificate program.

Ana has always had a fascination with architecture, so when our associate degree was launched last year, she immediately joined the program.

Ana’s professors say that she is an extremely talented designer and has set a standard for the students that follow her. She took part in many service learning projects including a park redesign in Harlingen, designing handicapped accessible homes for the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville, and most recently, taking part in the redesign of our own Scorpion Baseball field house using green and sustainable building practices that will serve as a model for eco-friendly building on our campus.

Ana plans to attend UT San Antonio this fall, where she will pursue her bachelor’s degree in architecture.

Congratulations Ana. We wish you the best as you continue your education.

Ana is not the only student who is being launched this spring to earn a higher degree.

  • Joe Lara is earning both an Associate of Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. He has been accepted into a doctoral program in chemistry at the University of Houston.
  • Alejandro Cruz, earning a bachelor’s degree in music education, will begin a master’s degree in music performance at Baylor University. But first, this summer, he and fellow music student Lisa Altamirano will play at Carnegie Hall in the 2010 National Collegiate Wind Ensemble. Our two students were among only six flutists who were selected nationally for this prestigious honor.
  • Ivan Achel Valdez, earning a Bachelor of Science in Biology, has been granted admission to the Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences where he will pursue a doctoral degree in biomedical research beginning this coming fall.
  • Herminio Guajardo, earning a bachelor’s in biology, has been admitted to the neuroscience program at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Oscar Sosa, earning a bachelor’s degree in biology, will spend 10 weeks this summer at the Pasteur Institute in Paris studying molecular genetics. This fall, he will begin doctoral coursework in biological oceanography through a joint program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

These graduates, as do the many others who will graduate today, attest to the extraordinary quality of students that attend our university, as well as the quality of our faculty and staff who teach and guide them while they’re here.

In addition to the college credentials that we award, we also have our own high school on campus. Today, we graduate 34 students from our Math and Science Academy.

Established by the 79th Texas Legislature in 2005, the academy is a ground-breaking program that allows high school students to concurrently earn college credit while they are earning their high school diplomas.

Our academy is only the second of its kind; the first is located at the University of North Texas.

Students apply must apply to the Math and Science Academy. They leave their traditional high schools to become students on the university campus during their junior and senior years.

They take an average of 17 hours per semester, and their classes are taught by university professors with the same demanding expectations as for other university students. Math and Science academy students are required to maintain a 2.7 GPA to stay in the program, but in fact, many of them exceed the requirement and are recognized by either making the Dean’s or President’s List.

Of the 34 students earning their high school diplomas today, 23 of them will also earn an associate degree. One hundred percent of the students have plans to continue college this fall. Fourteen have chosen to continue their education at our University and 20 will transfer elsewhere, one as far away as Massachusetts to attend MIT.

Please help me congratulate our Math and Science Academy students, their wonderful support staff and their dedicated faculty.

This year we are fortunate to have as our commencement speaker the president of the Ford Foundation, Mr. Luis Antonio Ubiñas. Mr. Ubiñas’ story will sound familiar to many of you here today.

Luis grew up in a rough neighborhood in the South Bronx. He survived the death of his young father and grew up as the son of a single working mother. One of his teachers recognized that there was something very special about this young boy and took him under his wing. She helped him get a scholarship into the one of the best schools in New York City, one worthy of his potential. From there on, it was Harvard and a then a brilliant career that, to this point, culminates as the president of the Ford Foundation.

Two and a half years ago, my own path intersected Mr. Ubiñas’ when I was serving on a search committee for the new president of the Ford Foundation. We were searching for a dynamic leader for one of the largest philanthropic foundations in the world with $11 billion in assets and offices in New York City and in 10 international countries.

The projects that the Ford Foundation helps to sponsor are aimed at transforming people’s lives by supporting visionary people and institutions working on the frontlines of social change.

Recently, I traveled with the Ford Foundation to Peru with Luis and many others. I saw him treat with equal respect the former president of Peru and the humble Indian Inca woman. I was impressed with Luis the first time I met him. His work at Ford over the last two years, his passion for the mission of our foundation and his humaneness has impressed me and all who work with him even more.

Mr. Ubiñas has a distinguished record of leadership in the nonprofit sector. Most recently, he was named as a new member of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is in good company; other new members include Pulitzer Prize-winning historians and novelists, musicians, actors that include Denzel Washington and director Francis Ford Coppola, among others.

Ford’s new leader is invited to speak all over the world. He chose to be with us here this morning.

[Commencement address by Luis Antonio Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation]

Luis Antonio UbiñasThank you to Juliet for that very kind introduction.

It is a wonderful privilege for me to be here.

I stand here in amazement.

There was a time not so long ago, when the university was a few buildings, a few dozen professors and a fraction of the students we see today.

Back then, this beautiful campus with its many academic offerings, would not have seemed possible.

But under President García’s extraordinary leadership, the university has grown nearly eight-fold. Its student body has more than doubled and its academic standing has improved dramatically.

I salute your president for constructing – in both buildings and ideas – an institution that combines the best elements of a community college with the academic standards of a university. She has turned the university into a true community university, and as a community, let’s take a moment to show President García our appreciation.

Let me say one other thing about your great president: Because of her leadership, there is no fence running through this campus.

It would have been easy to let this campus, and by extension this country, be separated by walls, dividing this campus as they divide people.

President García refused to let that happen.

As a result, the bonds between the students and faculty and your brothers and sisters across the border remain as strong as ever.

It’s no small wonder that because of Juliet’s tenacity, passion and enthusiasm, Time magazine recently chose her as one of the top 10 university presidents in the United States, an honor for her but also an honor for all of you and this campus.

So when President García asked me to speak here today, I was honored by the request to be part of this proud day.

I said yes because this is a special place.

Seventy percent of you receiving diplomas today are first-generation university students. Many sitting here are the first members of their family to graduate from college. For some of you, this may even be the first commencement speech you’ve ever heard.

Among those graduating today are brothers and sisters and parents sitting alongside their sons and daughters – two generations of degrees in one day.

I know the pride that must be in this space today. I remember my own mother’s pride when she, not having graduated from high school, watched as I received my college diploma.

Right here, today, we have Belia Olivarez receiving her bachelor’s degree in business administration. I imagine that her happiness in graduating is matched only by the pride she must feel in watching her own daughter, Ana, also receive her diploma.

What Belia, Ana and all of you here share – and what we honor – is the aspiration to better yourselves, to better your families, to better your country.

Each of us is privileged to live in this nation of extraordinary and limitless possibilities, but for far too many Americans – maybe even some of you here today – the opportunity for personal enrichment and higher education sits just beyond reach.

For our nation, this is a tragic loss. This great nation is built on the promise of its people – the uniquely American ability to let people aspire to and achieve as much as they can imagine, a limitless future, a limitless ability to contribute to making this country even greater than it is.

That’s why we come to places like the university: to build a better future for ourselves and for this great land.

Unfortunately for too many, unfortunately for this country, being a part of this dream is growing less possible.

So, much of our work at the Ford Foundation, the institution I am honored to run, is geared toward bridging that gap and ensuring that every American has access to the same experiences and opportunities that you have taken advantage of here at UTB/TSC.

At Ford, we engage in that struggle because we believe in the power of the individual. We engage in that struggle because the future of this country depends on its ability to allow every citizen to reach his or her maximum potential, to contribute to our growth and development as a nation.

All of you deserve praise for taking this step to be part of our great future.

There is nothing easy about being the first in your family to earn a diploma, and there is nothing easy about achieving something better for yourself and your country.

I say that because I am a part of that dream.

I am the son of a seamstress from the South Bronx. Your president, Juliet García, is the daughter of a janitor.

Where we went to college, few of our classmates looked like us; few had come from the places where we had grown up.

I share these facts, not simply to demonstrate how far we have come, but to remind you that the struggles you overcame in getting to this point today were the exact same ones that Juliet and I faced.

Like you, we sought higher education; we improved our knowledge; we learned essential skills and, above all, we accepted the responsibility that comes with the opportunity we received.

And of course, we got some help along the way, as did all of you. When you are the first person in your family to get a college degree, there are so many people who helped you reach this point, who sacrificed for you, who consoled you, who worried for you and prayed for you.

I am told that each graduate today brings on average seven people with them to this ceremony.

It probably seems impossible to thank all of them, but let’s give it a try. I ask the graduates to put your hands together and applaud your family and friends in the audience who accompanied you on this journey.

The people seated behind you are the most vivid reminders that, for all of your hard work, there’s still more for you to do.

Now, don’t get me wrong, you should celebrate this day, revel in your accomplishment, warmly accept all those congratulations.

But, once that moment has passed, each of you needs to ask one question: How are you going to use the gifts you’ve received here to better your community, your family and yourself?

So, while you have been blessed to be here today, in return, you need to make sure that your blessing is someone else’s reward.

Often at a commencement speech, the graduating class is told to go out and change the world. Don’t let me dissuade you from that course.

But, those of you graduating today have an even more simple and basic responsibility to your immediate community: Be successful in whatever you choose to do.

You can start your own business. You can run for city council or the school board. You can travel the country and the world and bring back the lessons you have learned.

Or perhaps you can simply find a well-paying and rewarding job and take care of your family.

It is your responsibility to work as hard as you can, as hard as our mothers and fathers worked for us. It is your responsibility to be as successful as you can be for yourselves and for them.

Ask yourself every morning, as I do, ‘What is the most I can do today?’

You are a role model for all those who live and work around you.

You are a role model for those who aspire to something better but are uncertain about how to take that first step.

You are a role model for those in this community who feel overwhelmed by the obstacles that impede their progress.

And above all, you are a role model whose success and personal triumph can offer those around you the confidence that they, too, can turn their dreams into reality.

So, I congratulate your accomplishment. I applaud your determination, and I implore you to strive for success, not just for yourself, but for all those who live in this vibrant community.

Thank you.

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