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The Journey of Dr. Juliet V. Garcia

Momentum and Goals Shared with VAMOS Scholars

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Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, esteemed academic and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, delivering her inspiring keynote at the 27th Annual VAMOS Scholarship Banquet, marking a night of celebration, scholarship awards, and breaking barriers in education. Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, esteemed academic and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, delivering her inspiring keynote at the 27th Annual VAMOS Scholarship Banquet, marking a night of celebration, scholarship awards, and breaking barriers in education. Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

Texas Border Business

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By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

June 14, 2023–During the 27th Annual VAMOS Scholarship Banquet evening, the Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships (VAMOS) attendees gathered to hear an inspiring keynote address from an influential figure. This renowned personality was Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, a professor in the Department of Communications at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. 

In 2022, Mrs. Garcia was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Biden, marking a significant milestone in her already illustrious career.

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Dr. Garcia’s pioneering spirit is an inspiration to many. As the first Latino to serve as president of a college university in the United States, she has been instrumental in breaking down barriers and challenging the status quo. 

In 1986, she led the formation of the University of Texas in Brownsville and served as its president for 22 years. The university produced more than 40,000 graduates under her leadership during her tenure. She was not just an academic leader but also a visionary. 

In 2011, Dr. Garcia helped envision and implement a new 21st-century university model that eventually consolidated two universities, established the first medical school, and created the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Her contributions to higher education, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, cannot be overstated.

Her contributions were recognized on the national stage as well. In Washington, D.C., Dr. Garcia served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. She chaired the advisory committee to Congress on financial aid in 2021 and served on a panel to select White House Fellows under President Biden. Her international efforts are equally commendable. After the election of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid, Dr. Garcia worked in South Africa to assist in integrating higher education.

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Dr. Garcia has also served on the boards of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. But perhaps one of the most heartfelt accolades she cherishes is being a devoted grandmother. “I am a very good abuelita with five wonderful grandchildren. All of them are brilliant, handsome, and beautiful. Isn’t that a coincidence?” she joked during her speech.

During her keynote address to VAMOS scholars, she emphasized the importance of setting and achieving goals to create momentum in Life. “We set momentum very early, and every year it seemed like not because we had planned it so perfectly, but then some opportunity arises, and somebody says, ‘we should try that,'” she said.

Dr. Garcia highlighted the significance of feeding the community’s hunger for knowledge and success. Her advice for those aiming for career goals and Life’s trajectory is to set them, meet them, and set another one with the energy that creates to keep the momentum going.

Dr. Garcia’s journey is a powerful testament to the power of resilience, dedication, and an unwavering commitment to progress. With a lifetime spent in the pursuit of betterment for herself and others, she truly is evidence of the power of education and its role in changing lives.

Her story is an inspiring reminder to all of us, especially those embarking on their educational journey. It encourages us to set goals, build momentum, and keep moving forward, regardless of our obstacles.

Her final message resonates with profound truth, “Once that momentum has been created, there is ‘ganas,’ there is energy for that next fight, that next win, that next goal to be set… because the moment your momentum is lost, then everything kind of grinds to a stop.”

Phase Two of Dr. Juliet V. Garcia’s Momentum and Goals Shared with VAMOS Scholars

Dr. Juliet Garcia shared a deeply personal and inspiring message with VAMOS scholars. The core of her address highlighted the power of energy derived from people, work, and the pursuit of one’s goals, even in the face of challenges.

Dr. Garcia recalled her time as President of the University of Texas, Brownsville, where numerous challenges tested her leadership abilities. However, she perceived these obstacles not as setbacks but as opportunities to build momentum. “You get energy from people, work, and wind,” she expressed. “Your job, once that energy is created, is to set the next goal.”

Reflecting on her early Life, Dr. Garcia remembered how her family, although lacking in formal education, possessed a keen understanding of the world and valued learning. Her parents were the source of her strong character and perseverance. They instilled in her and her siblings the goal of attending college, even though they were unsure what that would entail.

The story of her father learning chess is a potent reminder of the human ability to learn and adapt. Despite being introduced to chess later in Life by one of his sons, within two days, he was winning games. This ability to grasp new concepts quickly and effectively was a trait that Dr. Garcia admired greatly.

Her parents’ experiences also touched upon the obstacles faced by immigrants and the systemic racism that prevailed during their time. Her Mexican immigrant father could not afford college despite outperforming his peers academically. Similarly, despite being born in the Valley, her mother faced discrimination in her education.

Through their stories, Dr. Garcia highlighted the unfairness of social systems and the resilience required to confront and overcome these challenges. Her mother’s words echo this sentiment, “Life is tough. The world is tough. I can’t change that for you. But what I can do is help you better prepare for this world.”

Dr. Garcia also emphasized the importance of language and artistic skill, drawing a humorous analogy to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, famous dancers of their era. Much like Ginger Rogers had to dance in high heels and backward, today’s students must be adept in multiple languages and navigate different cultures while achieving their goals.

Dr. Garcia applauded VAMOS for their significant role in bridging the gap for many students who,

much like her parents, had the potential but lacked the resources for higher education. The organization is not just offering scholarships but, more importantly, unlocking doors and providing an opportunity for these scholars to build their futures.

VAMOS granted $850,000 in scholarships, renewable over four years, to 55 students who were present the night of the celebration.

Finally, Dr. Garcia stressed the inevitability of failure and the importance of embracing it as part of the journey toward success. “Some of you that are students here are going to experience some failures along the way,” she said, urging the scholars to persevere and harness the energy to strive forward.

During her speech, Dr. Garcia’s personal stories and life lessons profoundly inspired VAMOS scholars. Her message served as a testament to her resilience and a light for those navigating their way toward their academic goals. The narratives she weaved painted a vivid picture of struggle, resilience, and success, encouraging the scholars to embrace their journeys, failures, and all.

Phase Three of Dr. Juliet V. Garcia’s Momentum and Goals Shared with VAMOS Scholars

Dr. Garcia’s Lessons on Persistence, Goal Setting, and the Value of Meaningful Work.

In the final segment of her speech, Dr. Juliet Garcia underscored the importance of persistence, telling the audience of her unrelenting journey to secure a place in the doctoral program at UT Austin. Despite receiving repeated letters and phone call responses indicating she was on a waiting list, she persisted until she finally received acceptance. She reminded the VAMOS Scholars, “You’ve got to make that second, third, fourth, fifth call because rejection is going to occur. You’ve got to find another way into that door.”

Emphasizing the significance of goal setting, Dr. Garcia shared her father’s advice: if the front door is not open, try the side and back doors. She encouraged the scholars to relentlessly pursue their goals relentlessly, even if faced with obstacles.

Furthermore, Dr. Garcia stressed the importance of choosing meaningful work over material wealth. She urged the students to select a career path that contributes positively to their communities rather than fixating on achieving material possessions like a big house or a fancy car.

Towards the end of her speech, Dr. Garcia praised the audience members who have chosen paths of impact and service to their community, lauding them as “big shots in their ways.” She commended VAMOS’s efforts to provide scholarships and expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share her insights with the scholars.

Dr. Garcia asserted the importance of civic participation, encouraging the students to become engaged, patriotic citizens who will uphold and defend democracy. She ended her speech by expressing her joy in teaching, emphasizing how she finds her role as a professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to be the most privileged job she ever held. Her parting words were filled with gratitude, recognizing teachers’ value and immense impact on students’ lives.

Her speech was a moving testament to her belief in the power of perseverance, the importance of meaningful work, and the transformative effect of education. During this celebration, 

Texas Border Business extends its heartfelt gratitude to the Chairman and board members of the Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships (VAMOS) for involving us in their celebratory events. Now on my 16th year. We particularly appreciate Alonzo Cantu, Mary de Leon, David Deanda, Julian Alvarez, Sonia Falcon, and all other dedicated individuals who contribute tirelessly to this remarkable educational empowerment initiative.

Writen by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner & The 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient.

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