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More than 700 Texas A&M University-San Antonio graduates officially joined the ranks of the institution’s alumni network after taking part in the University’s Fall 2020 Curbside and Virtual Commencement celebrating their academic achievements.

The three-day rolling event – held December 13-15 – allowed each college (College of Business, College of Education and Human Development, and College of Arts and Sciences) to honor their graduating seniors in a creative, socially distanced manner. Graduates crossed the outdoor stage one at a time to receive their diplomas and had opportunities to take photos with family members in designated spots around campus.

The event was capped by a virtual commencement ceremony Dec. 15 featuring greetings from Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp and a commencement address from U.S. Congressman Will Hurd.

“On behalf, of Texas A&M University-San Antonio, I want you to know how proud we are of you, our most recent graduates for persisting through the challenges of your academic journeys, especially those of the last year which were both unforeseeable and profound. Despite these challenges here you are today with this impressive accomplishment now behind you and your future in front of you,” said Mike O’Brien, provost at TAMU-SA. “Congratulations on reaching this milestone.”

Addressing the Fall 2020 graduates during the virtual ceremony, Cynthia Teniente-Matson, president of TAMU-SA advised, “As you all go forward into the world as college graduates, knowing the world will be different, it’s your time to be change-makers. This is your chance to create your new truth and destiny – we need people thinking differently and using their imagination. These diverse points of view working together are what create ripple effects of advancement and civic-mindedness.”

Among the life lessons these December 2020 graduates have learned is how to shift gears and make the most of their studies and celebrations during unusually trying times. Two stories encapsulate the positive impact TAMU-SA students continue having on others as they now look to pursue their vocational dreams in the midst of a global health pandemic.

Getting involved

Ken Huynh graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems with a concentration in project management. A first-generation student whose parents moved to the United States to escape poverty in their homeland of Vietnam, Huynh is a recipient of the university’s Ring Award, a scholarship given to student leaders who positively impact the institution through their leadership and involvement.

While Huynh attributes his involvement in student organizations for helping him hone his skills in leadership and communication, it wasn’t his intention initially to get involved in extracurricular activities on campus. “I kind of stumbled into opportunities,” says Huynh. That includes becoming a founding father, and then serving as president, of the university’s newest fraternity, Delta Chi, for which Huynh won the Student Organization Leader of the Year award.

“When I first became president, I didn’t expect to serve during a pandemic, but then I realized that all the best organizations are able to pivot and turn adversity into something positive,” says Huynh. That motivated him to find new ways to strengthen the brotherhood bond of the fraternity, which seeks to promote friendship, develop character, advance justice, and assist in the acquisition of a sound education.

  • Emilee Jones shows of her Texas A&M University-San Antonio class ring Nov. 6, 2020 while standing on the A&M-San Antonio seal during the ring ceremony. The only time students are allowed to stand or walk on the seal is during the ring ceremony.
  • Ken Huynh poses in his graduation robe in front of the Torre de Esperanza (Tower of Hope) at the entrance to Texas A&M University San Antonio Dec. 2020.

“It was hard at first, because everyone was dealing with so much uncertainty, including our newest members who joined right before the pandemic hit.” Huynh made it a priority for members to check in with one another. One of the fraternity’s members, David Mantiply, introduced a quarantine challenge, says Huynh. “Using our discord server, we would have daily discussions to keep each other engaged while also getting people to know each other better.” Among the debates that drew the most intense response was whether a hot dog is a sandwich, notes Huynh.

As a transfer student from Northwest Vista, Huynh was also the perfect person to serve as a transfer student mentor. “One big obstacle for some is getting readjusted to a new school when they don’t know what resources are available to them,” says Huynh. TAMU-SA’s Transfer Student Mentorship Program helps students transition and get acclimated. “In my role, I would find out about a student’s interests and goals and then seek opportunities and different organizations that student could join in order to help him or her attain their goals.”

While at TAMU-SA, Huynh also sought opportunities to strengthen himself professionally, working as a student employee for the project management office in the University’s IT department. In that role, he had the chance to conduct research and provide analysis for various project proposals, including finding out how other institutions have addressed their campus parking challenges.

His parting advice to other students: Don’t be afraid to fail. “This is a time and place for you to learn from your mistakes. Failure doesn’t often occur because of a lack of ability, but from a lack of experience,” says Huynh. “Now is the time to gain experience and develop skills for your future.”

Taking full advantage of campus resources

Emilee Jones graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus in management. She plans an all-of-the-above approach for her future – seeking employment, continued studies, and volunteer opportunities. That includes continuing to help her community through volunteering at the food bank and her local YMCA.

Jones joined TAMU-SA’s Campus Activities Board soon after she enrolled at the university, becoming student director of the board during her senior year. “Planning events and negotiating with vendors to coordinate the university’s first virtual concert during a pandemic really tested my creativity,” says Jones. She also helped rewrite the student organization’s handbook. Through her various student employee and leadership roles, Jones not only built lasting friendships but also learned about teamwork and acquired presentation and interpersonal communication skills.

“The university has provided me with so many opportunities to network, collaborate with other student leaders, and work with professional staff,” says Jones. Among the highlights of her involvement: the chance to sit on the President’s Commission on Equity; help coordinate the university’s annual Henry G. Cisneros Student Leadership Conference; and attend national conferences for leadership development in Denver, Colorado and Columbus, Ohio.

“Through these experiences, I’ve gained skills that I plan to use in my future workplace and to tackle challenges in all aspects of my life,” says Jones. “I am especially thankful for the people and different offices around campus that have helped me with tutoring and career advice, including the Jaguar Writing Center, the Mays Center for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement, my advisor and my student success coach.”

Her advice to incoming and prospective TAMU-SA students: Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Join a student club or organization. Network with your fellow students, staff, and faculty. Finally, use the resources that the campus provides. Doing so will have a huge impact on your professional, personal and academic success, says Jones. “You only have your undergraduate college experience once. Make the most of it and leave an impact on your campus.”

As the fastest-growing institution in the Texas A&M System, TAMU-SA is by no means slowing its growth trajectory as it moves forward with ambitious plans for expanding access to students and continuing to increase the academic rigor of its programs and research while contributing to the local and regional economies in new ways. Amid the global pandemic that has put a damper on many sectors of the economy during 2020, the university opened a new $30 million classroom building in August and broke ground in November for a $53 million College of Business and library building, slated for completion in 2022. The university community also commemorated its new athletics fields in advance of rolling out its intercollegiate sports program in 2021 with inaugural competitions for softball, golf, and soccer. Stay tuned as the university prepares to welcome the larger community to these events in the new year.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Established as a stand-alone university in 2009, Texas A&M University-San Antonio is a comprehensive four-year public university that reflects the culturally diverse, heritage-rich community it serves....