EDINBURG — It likely wasn’t the commencement ceremony the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley class of 2021 expected when they stepped onto campus four years ago, but it was a commencement ceremony — the first true, in-person commencement ceremony in a year — and for many, that’s what mattered.
The university set up white folding chairs and big, green carpets in a parking lot on a corner of the campus. Staff erected the stage, with its flags and podium and rows of houseplants, not much different looking than any other UTRGV graduation, save for the fact it was al fresco.
Forklifts flanked the stage on either side, holding screens with a live feed of the ceremony projected onto them.
The university expects more than 3,100 to walk across that stage in Edinburg on Friday and a similar one in Brownsville on Saturday.
Among Friday’s matriculators were fine arts grads and college of liberal arts grads. Graduates from the School of Nursing and graduates of the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship. Young people graduating from a host of programs and majors who will go off to be nurses or engineers or journalists.
The graduates sat in the conspicuously spaced folding chairs under their robes and caps and tassels. Families and friends sat in chairs behind them, several huddled under umbrellas.
It was predictably hot out for the midday ceremonies — at least there was a breeze.
All in all, it looked pretty classy for what’s technically a parking lot.
Speaking to an audience of engineering, computer science and business grads in a recorded address, UTRGV President Guy Bailey discussed the unconventional year that led to the unconventional ceremony.
“You were in class one week, two weeks later you were all online,” he said. “But you know what, you persisted, you succeeded and you graduated. We’re so proud of you. The lessons you learned in doing this will be lessons that carry you through the rest of your life. Your persistence. Your flexibility. You’re determination to make sure you did it. I can’t tell you what a wonderful thing that is. I admire you; I admire what you’ve done.”
One of Friday’s graduates was Sharon Valencia Torres, an international student originally from Reynosa. Her mother and family came to town to watch her walk; Torres was excited for the festivities, and just ever so nervous she’d twist an ankle in her heels.
“I really wanted it to be in-person, so I’m not going to miss it,” she said. “I’m happy to have a commencement, I’m very grateful the university is making an effort. Low-key I’m complaining because we’re not going to have tents and my commencement is at 1 p.m., but it’s worth it. It’s much better than not having one.”
The last year did not go exactly how Torres expected — she only had two in-person classes in total — but it went alright. She’d gotten most of her hard classes out of the way and started applying for jobs earlier this year.
Things didn’t go her way at first. The rejection letters started stacking up and she was starting to get nervous.
Then, about two weeks ago, Torres got an offer, as an analyst for the Goldman Sachs Global Markets Division.
It wasn’t her dream job; frankly, Torres hadn’t been dreaming quite that big.
“I never imagined working for that company, and since I never imagined working for that company, I never pictured myself there,” she said. “It’s a dream job; it just wasn’t my dream job because I never thought I could have been there.”
Torres feels the same way about her new job she felt about Friday’s commencement: excited and just a tad nervous.
Ultimately, however, she says she’s up for the challenge.
“I’m definitely very thankful, for my parents, my professors,” she said. “I got to know great people at university.”
View the full photo gallery of UTRGV’s commencement ceremony 2021 below:
Check out other UTRGV in-person commencement stories from this weekend.