Community Unites to Celebrate Winter Commencement

UTEP News Service

The University of Texas at El Paso’s evening commencement ceremony Dec. 15 capped a day full of pomp and circumstance as more than 800 students from the College of Engineering, the College of Science, the College of Health Sciences and the School of Nursing received their degrees and embarked on the next stage of their lives.

A record 46 doctoral degrees were conferred to summer and fall graduates throughout the day – the most ever awarded during a Winter Commencement – including 21 Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.) degrees to the first cohort of students who finished the 31-month D.P.T. program.   

Among them were Blaine Gibson, Matthew McLean and Thomas Reese, who felt privileged to be part of the first class to complete the full doctoral program.

“It feels like we established a milestone for the community and the program,” said McLean, who works at El Paso Physical Therapy Services. “I wanted to give back to the community. It was a very welcoming program and something I felt comfortable with.”

For Reese, who retired from the Army after serving 20 years, graduation also was a milestone for his two children.  

“I didn’t have this type of milestone set for me but it’s set for them,” said Reese, the first in his family to earn a doctoral degree. “This is something that they can say, ‘My dad achieved (his doctoral degree) and the sky is the limit for us.’”

The excitement from the day’s earlier ceremonies continued into the evening. Students anxiously lined up in Memorial Gym, adjusting their mortarboards and wishing their classmates good luck.

Giovana Olivas proudly displayed her red, yellow and white honor cords from the Alpha Lamda Delta National Honor Society.  

“It’s a mix of excitement, relief and nervousness,” Olivas said about graduating from the College of Science with her bachelor’s in biology.  

As the graduates filed into the Don Haskins Center to cheers and applause from family and friends, Juan C. Lopez was surprised to see a banner congratulating him that his mom and siblings hung above the south end tunnel. 

“To have the support of my family is great,” said a beaming Lopez, who received his bachelor’s from the College of Engineering. “Without them, I wouldn’t be here today."

Theresa Lambert traveled from Round Rock, Texas, to attend her graduation from the School of Nursing.

Lambert earned her Master of Science degree in Nursing in the Family Nurse Practitioner concentration through UTEP’s online program.

“I liked that the program was online. It had a good reputation and I knew some people that had gone here and were pleased with the school,” said Lambert who plans to enroll in the University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program next year.

More than 520 undergraduates, 238 master’s degree recipients, and 10 doctoral degree recipients made up the proud group of summer and winter graduates who were eligible to walk during the 2 p.m. Commencement ceremony for the College of Education and College of Business Administration.

The graduates were beaming with joy, whether they were hopeful about future job prospects or had already secured employment in teaching, counseling or even business analysis for General Motors.

“I am really excited,” said Rosa Maria Alvarado, who is the first person in her family to graduate from college in the United States. The 60-year-old mother of two received her bachelor’s in education during the afternoon ceremony with a major in special education and minor in bilingual education. Her daughter worked to pay the bills while Alvarado was interning and fulfilling the requirements for her degree.

“They cannot tell me, ‘I’m sorry, Mom, I can’t do it.’ If I can do it, anybody can do it!” she exclaimed.

Gloria Gonzales Palomares – a 40-year-old graduate specializing in elementary education sporting a mortarboard with “Hot for Teacher” written in neon paint – said she was proof that anybody can come back to school and earn a degree.

“I’m proving to my two little girls that anything’s possible, and if you have a dream, go for it!” she said.

Carrying roses, teddy bears and balloons, students, family and friends swarmed the Don Haskins Center to witness The University of Texas at El Paso’s 129th Commencement.

The festivities kicked off at 9 a.m. with graduates of the College of Liberal Arts – the largest college at the University – walking the stage first. More than 750 students from the college were eligible to walk, including seven doctoral graduates and 129 master’s recipients.

Amidst the flashing cameras, whistles and yells, hundreds of students walked the stage excited to have finally earned their degrees.

“I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college so it’s a great honor,” said 32-year-old mother of two Kathy Rivera as she prepared to receive a bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies.

At one point during the fall semester, Rivera, who is also in the military, feared that she wouldn’t be able to graduate because she did not have the correct number of credits.

Needless to say, she persevered and took eight courses in one semester in order to walk the stage Dec. 15.

“I guess you could say it prepared me for what it’ll be like to get a master’s degree,” she said with a laugh.

During the ceremony, Rivera was one of the countless students to stand and be recognized as a graduating student parent.

President Diana Natalicio also applauded graduating grandparents, students who held jobs while attending the University, and first-in-the-family college graduates.

Among the seven doctoral graduates from the College of Liberal Arts was Katherine Rosamond White, who said her graduate experience at UTEP was excellent.

“I’m feeling good,” said White, who earned a Ph.D. in psychology. “My most difficult semester was last fall when I was teaching a new class, applying for jobs, and working on my dissertation – it was just a lot all at once, and also just not knowing if I was going to get a job and where I was going to end up was tough.”

But like Rivera, White’s hard work paid off and she ended up being offered a position as a psychology professor at Columbus State University in Georgia.

Graduates from the School of Nursing and the colleges of Science, Engineering, and Health Sciences will walk the stage beginning at 7 p.m.

More than 2,380 students – up from 2,014 last winter – were eligible to participate in this semester’s UTEP ceremonies. It was the largest winter commencement ever held at UTEP.

“Today we joyfully celebrate not only your achievements as UTEP students but also your many anticipated accomplishments as UTEP alumni – and members of a fast-growing Miner Nation, rich in tradition and even richer in promise,” President Natalicio said. “Congratulations to all of you!”

Click here to see Commencement photos.