Texas A&M University-San Antonio held its 10th anniversary spring commencement with the largest graduating class — 945 Jaguars — May 17 at the Freeman Coliseum.
University President Cynthia Teniente-Matson began her speech with a Jaguar welcome on the podium and acknowledged the milestone of A&M-San Antonio.
She said graduates wore two tassels on their caps. She explained the first is a traditional tassel and the second is to commemorate that they are graduating during the university’s 10th anniversary.
A&M-San Antonio became a standalone institution after the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 629, signed by Gov. Rick Perry May 27, 2009.
“You are forever a part of the A&M-San Antonio story, and you have left a mark on this institution,” she told the graduates. “I am so excited about what the future holds for our campus, and for you.”
Matson said the graduates joined a family of more than 10,000 Jaguar alumni. She said it’s an impressive body of experience, knowledge and connections.
“I encourage you to stay in touch, and stay connected as you join the ranks of those alumni,” she said. “I am proud to know that you will be representing A&M-San Antonio wherever you go.”
Michael A. Garcia is a full-time worker and parent. He was only able to take six hours some semesters. He graduated from A&M-San Antonio with a master’s degree in education.
He said he first attended the university when classes were held at the Gillette Campus — a former elementary school leased by the university — while the main campus was under construction.
“It started at an elementary school and we were still a part of A&M-Kingsville,” he said. “A lot of things had to fall in place for me to be a graduate within 10 years and being a part of the 10-year anniversary.”
“It’s really something special,” Garcia said. “We’re the first ones to get the commemorative tassels and it feels awesome.”
“I finally got through it, and all of my experiences at A&M have been positive,” he said.
Daniel Boone graduated with a bachelor of business administration in management and said he graduated from high school in 1986. He wanted to attend Texas A&M University at College Station but his counselor told him that college was not for him.
“When I found out that A&M was opening a campus 10 years ago, it was something inside of me that said it’s Texas A&M and I want to be a part of that family,” he said.
Boone said he started working on his associate degree at Palo Alto College and was offered a job in Fort Worth.
“I thought my education was important,” he said. “I decided to stay here and finish my degree and to be a part of Texas A&M-San Antonio.”
After her speech, Matson introduced Elaine Mendoza, the newly elected chairwoman of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. Matson said she has served on the Board of Regents since 2011, and earned her Bachelor of Science at Texas A&M University.
“Just this morning she was announced as its new chairwoman becoming the first Hispanic person, and only the second woman in the board’s history, to hold the prestigious position,” Matson said.
Mendoza asked the crowd if they were excited for the graduates. The audience cheered and yelled with excitement.
She told graduates they should choose their paths and remember to be self-assured, yet humble, to be strong, yet kind. She encouraged them to be kind leaders, which the community desperately needs.
“The A&M system and its members have been dedicated to improving lives through teaching, research and service for more than 140 years,” she said.
Mendoza said it is certain for the graduates to carry on the legacy and to impact lives by what they all learned and experienced at A&M-San Antonio.
“Many of you beat the odds, all of you worked hard, each of you did not allow obstacles and challenges to deter you,” she said.
“You overcame and you made it right here,” she said, pointing to the graduates.
Felicia Dillard said she got her first degree in 1999 and started at A&M-San Antonio in 2016. She graduated with a bachelor of business administration in management with a human resources concentration.
“I decided that when my son went off into the Navy that I was going back to school,” she said. “And here I am. I’m super excited!”
She said she already has an interview lined up for a job in West Texas.
“I could have graduated in December but I put it off to graduate in May so I can be a part of the 10-year anniversary,” Dillard said.
Lucy Sanchez attended graduation to support her niece and godchild, Deanna Angelica Sanchez, who graduated with a master’s in business administration.
Lucy Sanchez said her niece went to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville to obtain her bachelor’s degree. She said it gave her a warm feeling, that she decided to attend an A&M University for her master’s.
“I’m proud that she went to A&M-San Antonio because I’m an alumni from Texas A&M Kingsville,” she said.
She said Deanna Sanchez’s uncle majored in computer information systems and was a part of the university’s first graduating class.
“My brother was one of the first graduates at A&M-San Antonio too,” Lucy Sanchez said. “We’re very proud of her.”
The university conferred its second-ever Honorary Doctorate degree to Harold Oliver, who served on the board of the A&M-San Antonio Foundation, as its inaugural chairman. He also worked with the late Sen. Frank Madla as his legislative assistant, to establish and fund A&M-San Antonio.
Oliver recalled his memories with Madla and said he wanted to share the story of persistence and patience.
He said during the 10-year period of making A&M-San Antonio, the dream almost died numerous times. He said he battled local newspapers, elected officials, local universities and communities around the state of Texas.
“The decade it took me to lay the groundwork to establish A&M-San Antonio there were obstacles to overcome,” he said. “I’ve had the great privilege of impacting thousands of lives through my efforts to help establish A&M-San Antonio.”
“I was honored to take one man’s dream and turn it into reality,” Oliver said.
The university also awarded its Inaugural Meritorious Service Award to Greg Garcia, former assistant vice chancellor for governmental affairs with the Texas A&M University System and a campaign manager for Madla.
“Greg was there in 1996 at the start of what would be more than a decade long process, to gain approval for bringing a four-year university to the Southside of San Antonio,” she said.
After the 10-year commencement ceremony, Matson finished by making a toast in front of faculty, staff and the university’s birthday cake at a party for faculty and staff at the back of the Freeman Coliseum.
“I’d like to toast Senator Madla, the man with a big dream of a four-year university on the Southside of San Antonio,” Matson said. “To all of you in appreciation of the many things you’ve all done and will continue to do to grow our university.”
“To our faculty who go the extra mile for the students, to the staff that stay up late lots of nights and make our days like today happen,” she said.
“Finally to the next 10 years, may they be as wonderful as the first 10 — cheers,” Matson said.
Matson said she gets overjoyed by the positive energy of the faculty, students and the community. She said it was over the top, celebratory and an incredible anniversary week.
“It’s wonderful to have this be our largest commencement ever, and that’s pretty record-breaking,” Matson said.
“As we continue to grow, I think we’re going to continue to break records,” she said. “That’s part of who we are as a growing university.”