Your University is Here
By Dr. Juliet V. García
Presented to the 2010 Graduating Class
Brownsville Independent School District Baccalaureate Ceremony
May 23, 2010
Good afternoon. I am greatly honored to be here with you today to help you begin the celebration of your graduation at this baccalaureate ceremony. Thank you for the invitation.
In January of 1991, the same year that many of you were born, The University of Texas at Brownsville was established, and I was invited to serve as its president. You have never known your town without a university in it. You have grown up watching the university growing up right alongside you. And although I didn’t know each of your families then, I knew you were on the way, and that our job was to hurry up and build a university by the time you graduated from high school.
But I wasn’t the only one working to prepare the way for you. The Brownsville Independent School District was building many new schools and hiring the finest teachers they could find to prepare you for college. Your parents were preparing you, as well. They were making sure you got up every morning, and they helped deliver you daily to school. They fed you, they took care of you, they clothed you, and they tried to teach you about the importance of the education available to you, that many of them never had a chance to take advantage of.
And so, considering that we’re all here at your baccalaureate ceremony, I suppose you have to conclude that we were all pretty successful.
But how else do I know that we’ve been successful preparing for your college education?
- I know because many of our graduates also take state exams, much like you had to, and our students are passing their state boards at more than 98 percent in most areas and at a perfect 100 percent in the music program.
- I know because, each year, the number of our graduates grows. This year, the number of graduates was 2,100.
- I know because our nursing students continue to be ranked among the best in the State of Texas on their exams to become registered nurses. And I know, because the day they graduate, they all have good jobs.
- I know because this next Sunday, a week from today, I’ll be in New York City listening to two of our music students as they make their debut at Carnegie Hall in a national collegiate symphony.
- I know because our university chess team this year beat Stanford, UT Dallas, Texas Tech, and every other chess team in the nation except one, to come in second place at the President’s Cup tournament, the “Final Four” of chess.
- I know because just this last week we were notified that our athletic teams in men and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men and women’s golf and men’s baseball performed so extraordinarily this year, that we were named the Red River Athletic Conference All-Sports Award recipient.
- I know because every day I meet someone who says that their own careers were launched right here at UTB/TSC.
And I know more personally because I was one of those students that started out here as well.
My father came to the United States from Monterrey, Mexico, crossing through Camargo with his family with a hunger to succeed, to learn and to prove that we could be smarter, more clever and more persistent than others.
It wasn’t because my family had a lot of money – quite the contrary. My father’s first job was as a janitor. It wasn’t because my parents had gone to college that they wanted it for me and my brothers; it was because they hadn’t had the privilege themselves. But every month, my father would put away $5 or $10 in a college savings account for each of us.
I remember that we seemed to always be trying to get him to use that money from the savings account. Our house was small; it had only one bathroom and two small bedrooms. I would beg him for another bathroom. He would respond, “Ese dinero no se toca.” “That money cannot be touched except for college.”
My brothers would ask him to buy a new car with that money; our cars were always 5, 6 or 7 years old by the time we got them. But he wouldn’t hear of it. His response was always the same, “Ese dinero no se toca.” We didn’t even know what college meant, but we knew it must be very important to take such high priority in his very humble budget every month.
Our mother died when we were very young, so my father, now alone, had to work even harder to raise my brothers and me.
His biggest fear was that I wouldn’t grow up to be a lady. So, during the summers, he would send me to stay with my tias and tios who had daughters with hopes that something would rub off.
My father lived to see my brothers and I all graduate from college. He also lived long enough to see me named president of Texas Southmost College. Unfortunately, he died the year before we established The University of Texas at Brownsville. But, I’m sure he would have been proud that, not only did we all finish college ourselves, we were able to help the world become a better place along the way. My older brother is a registered nurse who now owns several hospice centers. My younger brother became an engineer who to this day travels worldwide helping companies design new technology based processes. Imagine what he would have thought of our university.
My father also lived long enough to get to know my children. They each have graduated from college, and now each has two children. He would have adored his great-grandchildren. But I’m convinced that even they had asked him for money from those college savings accounts, he would have said the same thing to them, “Ese dinero no se toca menos para el colegio.”
My story has been lived over and over again by many more students that began much like you are this evening.
A few years ago there was a young woman who applied to our nursing program. At the time, her father was out of work. But throughout his own difficulties he continued to encourage her dream of becoming a nurse.
One day the young daughter said to her father, “Pápi, you should apply for nursing school, too. Everything I have learned about caring for people and wanting to help them has come from lessons I have learned from you.”
Finally, she was successful in convincing her father to apply. On the same day, they each mailed in their application to the nursing program. Several months passed before they heard from the university. They sat down together and decided he would open his letter first. He did and it said, “Congratulations, you have been accepted into the nursing program at UTB/TSC.”
Now it was her turn. She opened her letter and read, “You have been placed on a waiting list for the nursing program.” Can you imagine the irony of the moment for both father and daughter?
What they didn’t realize was that being placed on a waiting list was not necessarily hopeless. Many students, who apply and are accepted, decide not to attend or to attend school elsewhere. So being placed on the waiting list still meant there was a chance for her acceptance. Over the next few weeks, she climbed from being fifth on the list to fourth, then third, second, and then she received a second letter notifying her of her acceptance.
On the same day, the father and daughter began their studies in nursing school. Two years later, on the same day, they crossed the commencement stage together to receive their degrees.
During last December’s Commencement ceremony, we learned of another father’s dream.
Lazaro Cardenas grew up in a migrant family. His own father taught him that an education was the key to creating a better life for his family. After serving in the Air Force, Lazaro carried out his father’s hopes for him and graduated from law school.
Lazaro married and hoped for sons so that someday, his son would also study law. Instead, he and his wife Eulalia had five daughters. All that he had hoped for a son someday became the same dream he now had for his five daughters. Often, as they were growing up, he would talk to them about his expectations for them to go to college.
Tragically, Eulalia died in an automobile accident when the youngest daughter was still just a child. But instead of being discouraged about their dream for their daughters, Lazaro became even more determined to make sure that they fulfilled the dream of all graduating from college. Eventually, several of the girls got married, began their families and for a while postponed graduating from college. But Lazaro was persistent. Every time he saw them and every time he talked to them, he would ask them about their plans to go back to college and graduate. He continued to encourage them not to “throw in the towel” when juggling work and family life with their studies.
Lazaro’s love and guidance helped each one of his daughters. He kept them company throughout the nights while they studied. He provided them with valuable insight especially when it came to politics and government. And he bought them every possible book and study aid to help them pass the subjects that seemed harder for them.
Before Lazaro’s death, he had seen four of his daughters graduate from college. In December of 2009, the youngest daughter, Nancy Cardenas earned a bachelor’s degree in health and human performance. She joined her sisters Adelaida, Alma, Martha and Araceli as college graduates, fulfilling her father’s dream.
Among them, the Cardenas sisters hold five associate degrees, five bachelor’s degrees and three master’s degrees.
The last story I want to share with you is that of Oscar Sosa.
As he began his college career as a biology major, Oscar began working at the Gladys Porter Zoo. At the zoo, he received early exposure to hands-on science doing everything from leading education classes about endangered species to caring for exotic animals.
On campus, Oscar took part in the Bahia Grande Wetland Restoration Project, the largest wetlands restoration project in the nation – an effort that will replenish more than 6,000 acres of native vegetation and aquatic life. There, he learned about the delicate balance between nature and industrial development. He worked side-by-side with brilliant environmental scientists that teach and conduct research at the university. He became a researcher himself.
Oscar also was chosen to work on the Texas Clipper project. The Texas Clipper is a World War II ship that was sunk – on purpose – by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department about two years ago just 17 miles off the shore of South Padre Island.
Once sunk and lying on the ocean floor, the ship would become an artificial reef that would attract a wide variety of ocean life that could be studied and used for recreational diving and underwater exploration. Oscar and his fellow students again worked side-by-side with faculty scientists to establish a living laboratory for the study of fish, oysters, barnacles and other organisms on the ocean floor.
Last weekend, Oscar graduated, earning a bachelor’s degree in biology. Because of the many valuable experiences he had while studying at UTB/TSC and because of the encouragement he received from his professors, Oscar is now headed to Paris, France, for 10 weeks at the Pasteur Institute to study molecular genetics. This fall, Oscar will start doctoral coursework in biological oceanography through a joint program with MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.
Like Oscar, thousands of students are being launched from our university into careers in the sciences, law, medicine, teaching, music and much more.
Now, what are your own plans? What is holding you back?
Do you think you’re not prepared enough for college study?
Each one of you graduating this month has proven that you can set a goal, work years toward it and achieve it. The wonderful thing about having achieved a goal is that once completed, it allows you to restart the entire process all over again. Set a higher goal, one that will cause you to stretch, one that may not even seem doable today, but that is worth spending your life trying to complete.
Are you worried that you haven’t mastered all of the subject areas necessary for a college degree?
But which one of us has? Not one of us can expect to be good at everything; we have our strengths and, yes, we all have our areas of weakness. That is what a university is for: to learn more, to sharpen our minds and our skills. To help you get there we have tutors, we have a learning assistance center, we have study labs and study groups and of course, we have computer labs available for all students to use for their own research and writing. And did I mention that we have libraries? Not one, but now two libraries for you.
To help you get ahead a head start on college, we offer dual enrollment classes throughout Cameron County schools. Completion of these college level courses earns credit for both your high school requirements and college at the same time. And they’re offered at no cost to the student. Last year alone, the value of these classes was over $6 million.
Together with BISD, we partnered to establish the Brownsville Early College High School, where students begin their college preparation in the ninth grade and can earn high school and college credit for courses tuition-free. Two hundred students are currently enrolled in the BECHS.
If you are a junior or senior interested in studying math or science, you can apply to enroll in our Math and Science Academy, attend college level classes on our campus and graduate from high school at the same time while earning up to two years of college credit, again, for no tuition charge.
Perhaps you’re worried about not having enough money to go to college?
Listen carefully, UTB, along with UT Pan American, is one of the two lowest cost universities in the entire University of Texas System. An education at UT Brownsville today, costs almost half as much as one at UT Austin.
In addition, this academic year alone we have awarded almost $62 million in grants and scholarships.
- If you graduate in the Top 10 percent of your high school class, you are eligible to apply to become a Scorpion Scholar and if chosen, receive 100 percent of your tuition and fees for four years plus $500 per semester for books. Last year, we awarded 258 Scorpion Scholarships each worth approximately $30,000.
- If your family’s income is less than $30,000 per year, you can sign up for the Imagine College Program, which pays for all your tuition and fees if you are a full-time student making satisfactory progress toward a degree.
- If you live within the TSC Taxing District, you will automatically receive a Trustee Scholarship of up to $285 each semester for your first two years, and if you attend full time, the scholarship is also available for your last two years. If you’re graduating from a high school in Brownsville, Los Fresnos or Port Isabel, you live in the TSC taxing district.
- If you have completed the recommended or distinguished curricula in high school and attend college as a full time student, you can apply for the Challenge for Excellence Scholarship, which awards students $1,000 per year and is renewable each semester.
- In addition, every year talented students are awarded scholarships in chess, music, physics, criminal justice, business, education and athletics. Many of our student scholarships include free housing at our Scorpion Village.
- More than 60 percent of our students receive enough federal financial aid through the PELL grant to pay for tuition, books, some living expenses and child care totaling up to $5,500 per year to offset tuition.
It costs you nothing to apply for financial aid, and nothing to talk to one of our financial aid counselors. Imagine what you might gain if you do?
Chose your own destiny; set your own personal goal and know that your university is here, ready to help you achieve it.