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More than 3,700 degrees conferred at spring commencement

Growing up in Progreso, Abraham Mora says he has always had to confront misperceptions about life and education near the border.

While the town, he admits, does lack an educated community, it still contains talented students who are persistently looking for a better life.

As he prepared to step up to receive his associate degree from South Texas College on May 11, Mora, 18, recalled the challenges he faced and explained how there is an opportunity to be positive about the future.

“The town of Progreso is very small, and sometimes we’re looked down upon, mainly due to the education level, but what people don’t know is there is lots of talent here, and when it all comes down to the roots of education, we have great teachers who inspire us,” Mora said. “I have a Hispanic background, both my parents came from Mexico City, so I’m basically the first generation here, and I plan to start a great future.”

Mora says STC gave him the opportunity to start planning for his future career while still in high school. He received an associate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and plans to attain his bachelor’s degree in mathematics so he can pursue a career in teaching.

“South Texas College has given me the opportunity to start my career. I really would have no idea what to do in that aspect, so I depend on my counselors,” Mora said. “They have helped me choose my career path by talking to professors who have the same career path I want to take. Counselors at my high school and STC have guided me towards what steps I should take. That is very important.

“They gave me the initiative, and now it’s all on me to continue,” Mora said.

Mora was among the more than 1,500 students from 25 early college high schools (ECHS) across the Valley who received a certificate or an associate degree on May 11, the largest number of ECHS students in STC’s history.

“We went from graduating maybe 200, four years ago, to 1,500 today, so it’s quite an accomplishment,” said Sofia Peña, director of Early College High Schools at STC.

“Early college high school students are first-generation, low-income, at-risk students. They are usually the first in their family to go to college, and they are not necessarily at risk of dropping out of school, but they are at risk of not attaining a higher-ed credential,” Peña said. “These are your middle kids that fly under the radar and may or may not go to college. So the fact that they’re graduating with a two-year degree, for some, is the only college they are going to get, and it’s quite an advantage once they get into the workforce.”

STC conferred over 3,700 degrees in five ceremonies on May 11 and 12.

“We are here to celebrate your graduation from South Texas College, and this morning, we are recognizing and celebrating dual credit students who are graduating from South Texas College two weeks before graduating from high school,” STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed told dual credit graduates on Friday morning. “Now, all of you have a great head start on college graduation by attending early college high school, one of our academies, or one of the many other dual credit programs we offer in partnership with our local school districts.”

Texas Workforce Commissioner Representing Labor, Julian Alvarez, addressed dual credit students at their ceremony Friday morning.

“There are many people in this great state of ours, especially here in Rio Grande Valley that would do anything, and I mean anything to be sitting where you are today,” Alvarez said. “Receiving a diploma shows folks that you are prepared for the workforce. Everything that you have coming, and have done in college up to this point, has led you to this point in your life. We are all proud of the accomplishments you have just made.”

Faces in the crowd: 

South Texas College awarded a posthumous degree to Kevin Chavana, who passed away in January 2018. Family were on hand at the 6 p.m. ceremony on May 11 to receive Chavana’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations.

“We always knew Kevin was going to reach the sky, he was not even physically with us today but still received this great accomplishment and left behind a great legacy for the family,” said Chavana’s sister, Mayra Montoyo-Chavana. “Everything he started he finished. Spiritually, he will always be with us. He was the best sibling anybody could ever hope to have.”

Jose Rangel, 24 and a veteran, is currently a deputy with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department. Rangel received his Associate of Applied Science in Law Enforcement and plans to obtain a bachelor degree in Organizational Leadership from South Texas College in the fall.

“I grew up in a really rough neighborhood, and people doubted me, but I am proud to have proved them wrong,” he said. “I do want to move forward and start a career with the US Marshal’s Office. That’s my end goal. To students, I would like to tell them not to let anyone stop you. Only you can stop yourself. I am proud to be moving forward.”

Martin Martinez, 18, graduated with an associate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies while attending high school at Mercedes Early College Academy. He plans to pursue a degree in Nursing in the fall.

“The early college program lets you get ahead of many students, and it pays for your education, which was a really big benefit not only for me but my family,” Martinez said. “Because I come from a low-income family here in the valley, I am really grateful that there is a program like this. “It really was a great privilege for me to join and further my education.”

Natalie Noriega received her Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership and plans to pursue a master degree and teacher certification.

“To students looking to get their degree, I would tell them to keep pushing. Your motivation can take you anywhere you need to be. Just know that your graduation day will come and it will feel amazing. Just keep working hard for it.”

STC offers more than 120 degree and certificate program options in a variety of liberal art, social science, business, math, science, technology, advanced manufacturing and nursing and allied health fields of study. With more than 150 agreements with colleges and universities across the nation, transfer opportunities for students who wish to continue their education beyond STC’s offerings are also available.