South Texas College Commencement Marked by Emotional Reunion Between United States Marine and Wife
STC Graduates 2,800-plus with first in-person commencement ceremony since 2019
Marine Cpl. Christopher Castillo surprised his wife Janeth with a surprise visit at STC Commencement during the 3 p.m. ceremony Dec. 12.
Barely catching his breath, the last few days have been a whirlwind of activity for Marine Cpl. Christopher Castillo. With a plan completely unknown to family members, save for his mother-in-law, Castillo secretly hopped a plane on Saturday from California.
His destination – South Texas College commencement.
“We (mother-in-law) had been talking back and forth about having a surprise for my wife’s graduation because I am going back on deployment soon, so I won’t be back for another six to eight months and I wanted to do something nice for her before I leave,” Castillo said. “At first I wanted to surprise her in the crowd, but South Texas College helped me arrange this instead.”
Fast-forward to Sunday, Castillo waits in a green room backstage at Edinburg’s Bert Ogden Arena. It’s almost time. With flowers in hand, Castillo straightens up, brushes off his dress blues, and prepares to offer the love of his life the surprise of a lifetime.
As STC president Dr. Ricardo J. Solis awarded Janeth Castillo an Associate of Science in Biology in front of the rest of the graduating class, Cpl. Castillo made his surprise appearance.
The couple who has been married for three years reunited for the first time in six months, embraced to cheers and tears from the audience.
“It’s a struggle, it really is,” said Castillo, a graduate of Donna High School who enlisted in the Marines right after graduation. “Just keeping in contact is what got me and my wife through my deployment or me being stationed in California and her not being with me. It’s all about the contact and staying faithful to each other.”
Janeth was among the 2,849 graduates who received their degree in three ceremonies Dec. 12.
“It has been really tough since he comes and goes, and there are times when I haven’t seen him for six months or longer but he has been with me whenever he can,” she said. “He has been a part of making this happen for me and him coming here has made this just so much more special.”
“The resilience and determination you have shown through your educational journey tells us you are ready, and we cannot be prouder of you. South Texas College has helped transform and empower you, and it’s through these challenges that you have the power to disrupt and change your destiny.”
Holding its first in-person graduation since Dec. 2019 due to COVID-19, STC awarded 627 degrees from the Business, Public Safety, and Technology Division, 400 from Liberal Arts, 669 from Social and Behavioral Sciences, 650 from the Division of Math, Science, IT, and Bachelor Programs and 502 degrees from Nursing and Allied Health.
STC President Dr. Ricardo J. Solis acknowledged the challenges brought on by the current pandemic in his address to graduates.
“You have a reached a parallel stage in your life’s journey. Despite these extraordinary times we have experienced, you have endured what no other student class has in over a century, you have become masters at managing changes and adjusting through an immediate crisis of much uncertainty,” said Solis in his first ever graduation address at STC. Solis took over the top leadership position in July becoming only the second president in the college’s 28-year history.
“The resilience and determination you have shown through your educational journey tells us you are ready, and we cannot be prouder of you,” Solis told graduates. “South Texas College has helped transform and empower you, and it’s through these challenges that you have the power to disrupt and change your destiny.”
“I’m nervous. I’m excited,” said Minerva Laurel who graduated with a degree in Education and plans to attend the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the spring to prepare for a career in elementary-level teaching. “My parents, God bless them, they’re the reason I’m here, and I thank my husband for always pushing me.”
Another student echoed similar support by family members.
“I appreciate my family’s support throughout these last few years, and I love them very much,” said Daniela Benavidez, who graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice and plans to start a career as a private investigator while pursuing her next degree in Business Management.