As the sun set over the horizon, the excitement of the crowd was just starting to build. Hundreds of community members and students gathered April 28 at South Texas College’s Starr County Campus Amphitheater in Rio Grande City. They were there to collectively celebrate a major milestone, the impeding college graduation of 250 Starr County students.
“I was hungry for growth and more knowledge,” said Astrid Garza, a graduating student who delivered the Student Address. Garza is a Starr County native who graduated from Roma High School and who will earn her associate of applied science in business administration from STC on May 14. “That’s when I decided to get a new job and go back to school. After I made the decision, I received mostly negative feedback. Someone even told me that I was too old to go back to college, and that I shouldn’t even try it.
“My college experience has not been easy,” the 27 year old told the crowd of fellow graduates and their family members. “I worked part-time while being a full-time student. I had to work to make sure my bills were paid. But I feel really proud today, because today we all have proven to ourselves that we are capable of achieving anything we set our minds to. Today there is a light brighter than any light bulb can give and that is the light inside all of us. Always keep shining.”
Students from across the county participated in the campus’ 12th Annual Recognition Celebration. STC Campus Coordinator Ruben Saenz was the master of ceremonies and attendees heard from STC President Shirley A. Reed, STC Board of Trustees Starr County Representative Rose Benavidez and STC Vice President for Academic Affairs Juan Mejia. They also heard from STC Starr County Campus Alum Erasmo Rios Jr. who shared some words of wisdom.
“I am proud to say my father worked the fields where this college now sits. I am proud to say I am a product of Starr County. And I am proud to say I am a graduate of STC,” said the former STC graduate and now deputy U.S. Marshal. “I shared your struggles, but as they say, nothing easy is worth doing. At STC, you are not a number; you are a person with a place and a purpose. I congratulate you all for persevering in that purpose and being here today.”
The campus and community also took time to applaud the efforts of the 19 members of the college’s Starr County Campus Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy (DEMSA) who will earn their associate’s degrees in biology weeks before earning their high school diplomas. And of particular note from this year’s DEMSA class is Veronica Garcia. A Roma High School student, she is a recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Millennium Scholarship, which is worth more than $250,000.
“This year, only 1,000 such scholarships were awarded throughout the entire United States,” said Nick Gonzalez, STC associate dean of high school programs and services. “Although very quiet and reserved, Veronica has excelled in STC’s DEMSA. She currently holds the highest grade point average amongst her peers at 3.79 and continues to aim to her highest potential.
“Veronica is the first in her family to attend college,” he continued, speaking on her behalf. “Being self-motivated, she pushed forward with the support of her family. Veronica traveled with them in the summers and worked as a field worker on cotton and peanut farms in North Texas. The experience humbled her and made her want to attain her degree so she can help her family even more in the future by becoming a registered nurse.”
The evening concluded with a family picnic and entertainment by Mariachi El Cascabel of Rio Grande City High School.
“This is the highlight of the year for all of us at the STC Starr County Campus,” said Ruben Saenz. “It’s wonderful to see the families come out and support the students. We can all take pride in their accomplishments because we have all worked hard to provide the support and opportunity they needed to succeed. We look forward to seeing their contributions to making Starr County an even better place to live and work.”