DREAMS REALIZED: UTRGV grads celebrate commencement

May 12, 2018 GMT

BROWNSVILLE — At 20 years old, Mayra Tovar crossed the stage during the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley commencement ceremony Friday in Brownsville with a colorful assortment of stoles and chords.

Tovar said it was a struggle growing up as an English language learner, but she’s looking forward to making a difference in the lives of other students like her as a fourth-grade teacher in Harlingen. The day was bittersweet, she said.

“I enjoyed the culture here,” said Tovar, who earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in bilingual education. “Everyone was willing to be your friend. I think we all understood we were working toward the same goal.”

She was one of about 700 UTRGV students who celebrated commencement as their families and friends cheered with floral bouquets, balloons and cameras at the ready.

Patricia Alvarez McHatton, an executive vice president for academic affairs, congratulated the students and said 3,100 students total would be graduating from the university this term.

UT System Student Regent Jaciel Castro, who is working on his master’s of finance at UT-San Antonio, told the audience to remember to give back to the community that invested in them. Whether it’s through mentorship, coaching or creating internships for others in the future, he urged them to become a support system for each other and future UTRGV graduates.

“We look forward to you going out into the world and making a big, big impact,” Castro said.

It felt like a long road at times for biology major Rene Barrientos, 21, and his friends, but he plans to return to UTRGV for his master’s in occupational therapy.

“I have a family member with autism, and seeing his mother raise him impacted my life,” Barrientos said. “I want to help out kids like that.”

Fellow biology major Mariana Alvarado, 22, said the occasion was all the more special because she shared it with her family.

“I’m very proud of myself, especially because my parents feel happy to watch me walk across the stage,” she said.

For Tovar, her college experience gave her more than a degree. She said she gained confidence and realized the opportunities she had didn’t come by luck but through her hard work.

She would tell undergraduates “not to hold themselves back and not to be harsh critics of themselves,” Tovar said, “because that’s a big limitation that you don’t want to set for yourself.”