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Manny Saenz’s Unexpected Honor and the Bonds of Mentorship

A Circle of Gratitude

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Manny Saenz, Victoria Diosdado and Janet Ogden Vackar. Photo by Roberto Hugo González
Manny Saenz, Victoria Diosdado and Janet Ogden Vackar. Photo by Roberto Hugo González
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By Roberto Hugo González

This is a follow-up story regarding the turn of events. Manny Saenz, a dedicated Edinburg North High School teacher, experienced a profound recognition and gratitude that transcended his 30-year teaching career. One of his students, Victoria Diosdado, a senior preparing to graduate, extended a deeply personal invitation that would change the course of his professional life.

And for this special occasion, a selfie was a must. Manny seized the unique opportunity to take this selfie with Victoria Diosdado and Janet Ogden Vackar. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

The student, unable to have her parents present as they reside in Mexico, chose Manny to represent her family at the prestigious Top 10% Honors banquet. Touched by her gesture, Manny shared his emotional response on Facebook, which Janet Ogden Vackar read. “I was not expecting this,” Manny recounted. “Obviously, I was aware of Janet’s visit to Edinburg High North. Still, it was very emotional for me because this is a very unusual and extraordinary thing that happened with Victoria inviting me to represent her parents. At the same time, she is being honored for being part of the TOP 10%. This is my 30th year of teaching, which had never happened before. If I go to one of these events honoring students, it was to work, but now I’m going as a member of Victoria’s family. So, I’m happy about it.” 

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The event became even more special with the presence of Mrs. Janet Ogden Vackar, a renowned philanthropist in the South Texas area and co-principal of Bert Ogden Auto Group, one of the largest auto dealerships in South Texas.

Janet’s good heart embraces everyone. This occasion was for Victoria, the young woman whose dedication to her studies has placed her at the forefront of a brilliant future. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

Manny shared his admiration for her, noting their long-standing social media connection and passion for the automobile industry. “I’ve known Janet through social media, of course, and we’ve talked before through social media,” Manny said. “Still, I told Janet that whether it was from a distance or one of the things that Janet knows about me is that I, too, have always had a tremendous amount of respect for her and admiration for the incredible impact that she and her family’s legacy has had here in South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. The story linking Janet and me is that my father bought his first car from her father, Mr. Bert Ogden, many years ago. So obviously, one of the things that Janet knows about me is that I, too, am a car enthusiast.”

Victoria’s recognition and Manny’s connection with Janet Ogden Vackar have brought a sense of fulfillment and pride to Manny’s career, marking a significant milestone in his life as an educator. 

Janet shared a heartfelt story about her favorite teacher’s profound impact on her life, illustrating the importance of mentors in shaping our confidence and abilities. “Well, actually, what I told Victoria’s class, everyone has a mentor, and I had a speech teacher, and I was very shy when I was young in high school,” she began. Despite her shyness, her teacher recognized something special in her and selected her to speak first in front of the class. She recalled the anxiety she felt, unsure of what to write or say, but she decided to speak from the heart about her fear of the dark. Her candid speech resonated with her classmates, and her teacher’s encouraging words—telling her she had a natural talent—left a lasting impression. “And I always remembered that. And that’s why he gave me confidence,” Janet explained, highlighting how this moment of validation was a turning point for her.

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Victoria Diosdado, an 18-year-old high school senior, has achieved a remarkable milestone by being honored as one of the top 10% of her class. Originally from Mexico, Victoria transferred to her current school during her junior year, bringing the credits she had earned back home. Despite the challenges of adjusting to a new country and a different language, she has excelled in her studies. “It is complicated or difficult for me because I came from Mexico to another country with a different language,” she explained. “So, my first language is Spanish, but I am doing much better in English.” Her determination and hard work have paid off, as she has successfully navigated the complexities of her new environment.

Victoria’s journey is about personal achievement and the support and encouragement she has received from her family and mentors. She shared her pride in being part of the top 10%, a concept she was initially unfamiliar with. “I am very proud of it because I didn’t imagine I would achieve it,” she said. She also recounted her excitement and gratitude when meeting Mrs. Janet Ogden Vackar, a respected figure who took the time to visit her. “I’m very thankful for her coming to meet me. I think she’s a great woman. I never expected somebody like her to take the time to visit,” Victoria remarked. Though not present, her parents are equally proud and continually encourage her to do her best. Their joy and admiration will surely grow when they learn of Mrs. Vackar’s visit and their daughter’s recognition.

Janet’s experience accentuates teachers’ significant role in building confidence and self-esteem in their students. She felt a deep connection when she reflected on Victoria Diosdado’s story about a similar experience with her teacher. “Well, that’s lifting people who lift others and give them confidence. And it touched me when I read Manny’s story,” she said, noting how it validated her experiences. Although she had only interacted with Manny through social media before, seeing his impact through a student’s eyes confirmed her admiration. Victoria’s courage to ask her teacher to attend her banquet exemplified the confidence he had instilled in her, mirroring Janet’s journey. This narrative showcases the ripple effect of encouragement and belief, illustrating how one teacher’s support can resonate through generations.

Following the emotional recognition at the Top 10% Honors banquet, Manny reflected on the potential impact of Victoria’s heartfelt gesture. When asked if he expects other students to follow in Victoria’s footsteps, Manny responded thoughtfully, “I don’t know. Listen, here at Edinburg North High School, we have an amazing amount of quality faculty who’re just good people. They are good people who are intelligent and sincere about their desire to help our students succeed after graduation.”

Manny elaborated on the dedicated faculty at Edinburg North, emphasizing the joint effort to inspire and support students. As the head of the fine arts department, he praised his colleagues across various departments, from fine arts to UIL academics, and highlighted their recent achievements. “Everybody in the fine arts, their heart and soul are here with the students. Some of my favorite teachers on campus are from the UIL academics, whom I have worked with for many years. We just won the state championship in 6A for number sense. The state is number one in mathematics, incredible. We have amazing teachers in the English department, like Cynthia Scott, in the math department, and H. Garza. I could go on and on. Julian Medrano in science. These guys inspire. We all inspire each other to continue to do better and get better. There is no pinnacle. You have to keep reaching for higher elevations. And somehow or other, we could do that here at the school.”

Reflecting further on Victoria’s invitation, Manny expressed his deep gratitude and humility. “Victoria’s invitation touches me. And again, when she asked me, I asked her, wouldn’t you rather ask somebody else? But she said, no, it’s you. And I was touched by that.” Manny emphasized that the recognition wasn’t solely about him but the influence of those who have shaped his journey. “This isn’t about me. And I humbly say who I am is all the people who have inspired me to be myself in the classroom daily. As mentioned earlier, my father was a tremendous leader and student advocate. He’d be proud of this.”

Manny acknowledged the numerous influences throughout his educational journey, from his early school years at San Isidro ISD to his higher education at Texas A&I University and UT Pan-American.    “Whether it was San Isidro ISD, where I went to elementary, middle, and high school, Texas A&I University, where I got my bachelor’s and a master’s degree, and Texas A&I and UT Pan-American. Everybody who has helped mold me into who I’ve become is tremendous. And, of course, my parents, my grandparents, and family.” This touching reflection stresses the profound impact of mentorship, illustrating how Manny’s legacy as a teacher continues to be shaped by those around him.

Written by Roberto Hugo González, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year and recipient of the Paul Harris Award in 2009 and 2012. Janet Ogden Vackar invited Roberto to contribute to this remarkable story, resulting in two articles being written.

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