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True Love Never Dies – STC Helps Family Find Closure

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Thomas “Tommy” Esparza was a Culinary Arts student at South Texas College working toward an associate degree in a field that he loved, unfortunately, he never got to live out his dream of a college degree. But with the help of STC and his family, Esparza, 44, posthumously earned his associate degree on Saturday, Dec. 9, during the 1 p.m. fall commencement ceremony at the Bert Ogden Arena where nearly 3,000 students received certificates or associate degrees. Courtesy Image
Thomas “Tommy” Esparza was a Culinary Arts student at South Texas College working toward an associate degree in a field that he loved, unfortunately, he never got to live out his dream of a college degree. But with the help of STC and his family, Esparza, 44, posthumously earned his associate degree on Saturday, Dec. 9, during the 1 p.m. fall commencement ceremony at the Bert Ogden Arena where nearly 3,000 students received certificates or associate degrees. Courtesy Image
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By Amanda Sotelo

Thomas “Tommy” Esparza was a Culinary Arts student at South Texas College working toward an associate degree in a field that he loved, unfortunately, he never got to live out his dream of a college degree.

But with the help of STC and his family, Esparza, 44, posthumously earned his associate degree on Saturday, Dec. 9, during the 1 p.m. fall commencement ceremony at the Bert Ogden Arena where nearly 3,000 students received certificates or associate degrees. 

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With only one semester left before graduating, on Nov. 11, 2023, Esparza stopped responding to phone calls and text messages from his family, and on that day, his sister found he had passed away.  

“I screamed; I cried when I found him lifeless in bed. I already knew something was wrong, but this confirmed it,” said Esparza’s older sister Diana Esparza. “We still don’t know exactly what caused his death, but what we do know is the world lost a great man that day.”

Just a few days prior, Esparza and his wife Edna Esparza, who was bedridden after a series of multiple strokes, tested positive for COVID-19. Diana said doctors explained to the family he had suffered a heart attack, but whether it was COVID-related was never confirmed. 

And despite his wife receiving normal vitals from health care professionals after Esparza’s death, to the shock of the family, she also passed away, the same day, four hours later. 

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“It has been such a loss to our family…it’s truly been a month of grieving and trying to fully comprehend what has happened,” she said. “They loved each other so much; their love was so strong. The only way I can explain this is that my baby brother came back for his true love.” 

Esparza and his wife, a former educator at the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, would have celebrated their 19th anniversary last month, but the last few years tested their vows – through sickness and health…until death do us part. 

Four years ago, Esparza underwent a successful kidney transplant, then despite what appeared as a successful surgery for his wife’s strokes, she never fully recovered, leaving Esparza as her primary caregiver.

“My baby brother did everything he could to ensure she was comfortable and well taken care of,” said Diana. “So, when he enrolled at STC, he was so grateful to learn that his instructors truly understood his situation and worked with him to ensure that despite his challenges, he could still find success.” 

Diana said her brother was always so thankful to STC. She said he always mentioned how special STC and its instructors are because of their genuine care for students. 

He worked with city of Pharr animal control and signage for numerous years, but his goal was to open a food truck.

“He always commented to me how appreciative he was of his instructors because they were always there for him,” she said. “His goal was his degree, and they were helping him get there. Tommy was a great cook, and I was so glad he had found a place where he could pursue his passion.”

Diana added that she owes so much to STC and a “thank you” could never be enough.

“From helping my brother to helping our family find closure by letting us realize my brother’s dream, STC has been there for us every step of the way,” Diana said. “I can’t even begin to express my gratitude. STC will never fully know how much they did for my brother and for my family.” 

Esparza’s family said they find solace in knowing that Esparza and Edna are together again and that their presence is always felt. 

“Being presented with his degree, gives us all a sense of closure. I am so proud of Tommy,” said Diana. “I know for a fact that they are always with us, so ultimately, my brother did complete what he set out to do – get a degree.”

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