South Texas College Graduates 3,100+ During Spring Commencement
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South Texas College awarded 3,117 degrees in five separate ceremonies may 6-7. In his address to students, STC President Dr. Ricardo J. Solis acknowledged the challenges of all students, and especially the challenges brought on by the current pandemic.
What initially began as a two-year sprint to earn his degree and then enter the workforce instead turned into a five-year journey that enabled Carlos Zarate to reflect on his own career goals.
Born in Reynosa, Zarate, 27, says he came to the United States in 2016 to study at South Texas College with the hopes of starting his degree as a Physical Therapist Assistant. Zarate said he initially studied Physical Therapy in Mexico but switched his career choice when he realized the numerous degree offerings at South Texas College.
Now more than five years since he first arrived in the United States, Zarate says he is following a new-found passion for mechanical engineering with the hopes of one day working for Tesla.
“I came here and when I started, I didn’t know any English so I took basic classes so I could learn to communicate. I did that for a year before I felt ready to start my college degree,” Zarate said. “It has been a long journey and it has taken a lot to get here.”
Zarate now plans to attend the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and work for his bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering.
“Working and going to school was exhausting and then the (COVID) pandemic lockdown added stress that impacted my life because I had to take online classes even though I knew very little English,” Zarate said. “But I held on to my dream, which was to get an education and to graduate from college and that made me keep going. The dream was there, and now I can finally say I made it. What I would like to tell other students is that no matter the situation, if you focus on your dream, you will get there on your own time, no matter if it takes more time than you expected.”
Zarate was among the 3,100 graduates who received their degrees in five ceremonies May 6-7.
Overall STC awarded 623 degrees from the Business, Public Safety, and Technology Division, 880 from Liberal Arts, 533 from Social and Behavioral Sciences, 724 from the Division of Math, Science, IT, and Bachelor Programs and 360 degrees from Nursing and Allied Health.
“Working and going to school was exhausting and then the (COVID) pandemic lockdown added stress that impacted my life because I had to take online classes even though I knew very little English. But I held on to my dream, which was to get an education and to graduate from college and that made me keep going."
Engineering graduate Omar Bernabe, who transferred to STC from Michigan State University says the decision to come to the college changed his life.
As a former migrant farmworker, Bernabe said he was determined to succeed. Now walking the stage with his Associate Degree of Science in Engineering in-hand, Bernabe said he looks ahead to a paid internship this summer with Texas A&M University-Kingsville’s College of Engineering Hispanic Serving Institute (HSI) Summer Bridge program.
In the fall, he will transfer to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to earn a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and continue working as an aviator technician.
“I’m really happy with my decision to come to STC because it changed my life,” he said. "It’s never too late to go back to school. Everyone advised me that STC was the way to go. I came back home from MSU to help my family financially and at the time, I was looking for work and applied to McAllen’s McCreery Aviation as an aviator technician (but) if it wasn’t for STC and the professors here, I wouldn’t have been able to get into the engineering program.”
STC President Dr. Ricardo J. Solis acknowledged the challenges of all students, and especially the challenges brought on by the current pandemic in his address to graduates.
Solis acknowledged that many of the students receiving their degrees were among those severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but who still found the strength to persevere despite the hardships.
“You have a reached a paramount 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 graduation address.
More than one-third of all South Texas College graduates who walked across the stage for commencement are already employed or have jobs waiting for them once the celebrating is over.
“Your resilience and determination shown during your education journey proves you are ready and we could not be prouder than we are for you today,” Solis told graduates. “You have the power to disrupt and change your destiny. You have the power to make a positive impact on generations to come. 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 really happy with my decision to come to STC because it changed my life. It’s never too late to go back to school. Everyone advised me that STC was the way to go.”
Genesis Serna remembers how nervous she was when she started college. More than four years since Serna earned her high school GED, Serna said she reflects on her growth from a teen mom to a college graduate receiving her associate degree in Early Childhood Development.
“I enrolled with the college in 2019 because my husband was attending here for some time and he loved it. He was the one who encouraged me to attend and start my college education,” Serna said. ““I feel more secure with myself and am going to go for the greater dreams I have that will make me a better mom and educator.”
Encouraged by family, Briana Pedraza continues to reach for her goals thanks to her membership with Valley Scholars. Since high school, the Occupational Therapy student has been focused on her studies and community service. Pedraza enrolled in the dual credit program through McAllen’s Niki Rowe High School. She is now expected to graduate this spring from the Occupational Therapy Assistant program with an Associate of Applied Science.
“I was appreciative of the faculty because they really care about your success, and that's not something that you find at another school,” Pedraza said. “Take advantage of these opportunities as a student. Your goal is whatever your dream is, you have to work really hard towards it.”
A first-generation college student graduating with a degree in Precision Manufacturing Technology (PMT), Luis Alonso said he continued rising with the help of his parents and STC Dual Credit program instructors. A two-time scholarship recipient of the Gene Haas AMT and Royal Tech Precision Manufacturing grant, Alonso was awarded $3,000 total to assist with his studies.
“Everything I’m learning, I’ve applied it to my work and everything I learn at work, I apply it to my studies,” Alonso said. “Education is a different stepping-stone for everyone, so I would encourage them to keep climbing.”