Texas Border Business
McAllen, Texas – As first-generation college students, siblings Jose Angel Garcia and Aimee Castro say that they took the scenic route on the way to receiving a diploma from South Texas College.
Graduating at the same time and with the same bachelor degree in Organizational Leadership on Dec. 1, Garcia and Castro say they motivated each other to succeed even when life got in the way.
“All sacrifices are well worth it to show your children it’s never too late to make a change and get an education,” Jose said. “I owe it to the mindset I had because I knew it could be done no matter what age I was.”
Jose said he graduated high school in 1999 but opted to forgo college in order to begin his career and start a family. An expert with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Jose said he came back to school to further his career.
He returned to STC in 2014 and over the course of four years received an Associate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Aimee, who is currently an administrative assistant with STC’s President’s Office – External Affairs, said she began her career working for over a decade as a state employee but became a stay-at-home mother in 2014 once her children were born.
“I realized right away that the college was here to support me in any way possible so I could succeed,” said Aimee. “Once my brother and I had that leverage that enabled us to succeed, all that was left was just the willingness of the heart to go and get the degree we wanted.”
STC conferred 2,194 degrees in two ceremonies on Dec 1. The college awarded 182 Bachelor’s degrees, 581 degrees from the Business, Public Safety, and Technology Division, and 398 from Nursing and Allied Health. The college is one of the only two-year institutions in the nation to offer bachelor degrees to students.
During the afternoon ceremony, STC conferred 872 degrees from the Division of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and 161 graduates from the Division of Math and Sciences.
“This is the day we honor you, our graduates. We are here to celebrate your graduation from South Texas College. All of us at South Texas College, the Board of Trustees, our outstanding faculty, staff, and administration all join me in extending this welcome,” STC President Dr. Shirley A Reed told graduates.
“Graduating from a college or university is an honor few receive,” Dr. Reed said. “Many of you are the first in your family to earn a college degree. That dream and the desire to go to college is appreciated by all of us here.
“We were there to support you on your journey to graduation, and we all know that it wasn’t an easy journey. There were lots of trials and tribulations, but you persevered and you are here celebrating your graduation,” Dr. Reed said. “We are very proud of each and every one of you.”
Also at graduation, Graciela Diaz and her son Nick Arredondo both celebrated achieving their Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Organizational Leadership at the same time. Graciela said she is especially proud of her son, who comes from a family of migrants on his father’s side, to be the first in their family to graduate college.
Nick said the experience of finishing his degree with his mother brought them closer together despite each having full-time jobs.
“My mother is not only my parent, she’s my motivator,” Nick said. “We helped each other with our homework and we studied together. Even though we had eight to five jobs, I would still go to her house, we would have dinner, and we just bonded through that.”
“My husband is really proud of Nick because he is the first one from their migrant family to graduate,” Graciela said. “It was never in their vision, for them it was always about working in the fields but his grandfather would always tell them that they had to go to school.”
Faces in the crowd:
Ilissa Valencina, a former Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy (DEMSA) student, previously obtained her Associate degree in biology and returned to STC to receive her bachelor’s degree in Medical and Health Services Management.
“I feel like the hard work paid off. Right now I am teaching and I hope to start in a master’s program in the spring and I will see how that goes for me,” Valenciana said. “To students, I would tell them to never give up. No matter how hard it gets, take it day by day.”
Adam Torres is a student veteran receiving his associate degree in Biology. Serving eight years in the Texas Army National Guard, Torres says he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and was inspired by mentors within the US Department of Agriculture once he returned home.
“The veteran services organization here at STC is fantastic, everybody wants to help everybody and you feel like part of a family,” Torres said. “I want to continue my education and hopefully obtain a bachelor degree in microbiology, and then maybe one day come back and give back to the college.”
Diana Morales graduated with an associate degree in Criminal Justice and plans to transfer to UTRGV to obtain a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice and minor in Psychology with the hopes of entering a career with US Customs and Border Protection.
“I loved the environment here at STC and I loved the one on one communication with professors so I decided to finish my degree here,” she said. “To future graduates, I would like to tell them that anything is possible with the right mentality and determination.”