During my 30-plus years in higher education, I’ve witnessed many milestones. I’ve celebrated the academic and research successes of my students and peers, and I’ve celebrated the success of collaborative initiatives to make education more affordable and accessible for Texans.
I must confess, though, that nothing compares to the excitement I’m feeling as I get ready for UTSA Commencement this weekend. Our students have accomplished so much and I am so proud of them. You should be, too.
One of those students is Freddie Cuellar. When this Hondo native receives his bachelor’s degree on Saturday, he will become the first person in his family to graduate from college. Growing up, Cuellar developed a strong work ethic while watching his father, a self-made entrepreneur, persist to get his businesses financed. After Commencement, Freddie will begin a career with a statewide banking firm, tapping that same business acumen to help small and medium-sized businesses.
Honors student Jasmine King likewise found her path at UTSA. Originally set on a career in medicine, she transferred to UTSA and began conducting research on bone scaffolds beside some of our world-class faculty. Now she’s eager to pursue a research career and has already secured a fellowship from the National Science Foundation.
More than 4,400 amazing students just like Freddie and Jasmine will cross the Commencement stage on Saturday and Sunday. They are our newest business and civic leaders, scientists, engineers, teachers and artists who are prepared to change the world. Nearly 45% of them will be the first in their families to earn a college degree.
Like them, I was a first-generation college student. I remember the sense of accomplishment I felt when I earned my bachelor’s degree, and later my doctoral degree. I was so proud to achieve what others said was impossible. Make no mistake – it was tough and I had to work hard, but I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
Over the course of my career, I’ve met so many people. They inevitably ask me why I chose a career in higher education. I tell them it’s simple. Higher education has the ability to change lives. What better pursuit is there than to help students learn, grow and improve their lives and the lives of those around them?
Commencement gives all of us an opportunity to pause and think about how important student success is to our community, to our state and to our nation.
It is also a time to celebrate, and I can’t wait to congratulate the Class of 2017!
Pedro Reyes, Ph.D.
President Ad Interim, The University of Texas at San Antonio