EDINBURG, Texas (ValleyCentral) — University of Texas Rio Grande Valley held its first fully in-person graduation ceremony since the start of the pandemic.

Thousands of UTRGV students moved their tassels over, received their diplomas, and proudly walked across the stage.

“This is the first year that we’re back in full swing,” said UTRGV’s senior vice president for Strategic Enrollment and Student Affairs, Dr. Maggie Hinojosa.

She said the ceremonies were held virtually in 2020 and hybrid in May of this year.

“This ceremony is always a great experience, but I think in particular for what these students have had to endure and their families, this is just really the culmination of a lot of hard years of work and effort, so it’s an exciting time for our students,” she said.

She said students and staff navigated through the challenges over the last two years as a community and family.

Jazmin Montalvo earned her master’s in nursing administration and was overwhelmed with emotions after receiving her diploma and walking the stage.

“It’s been hard, but I’m glad I’m past it and my daughters were able to see me push past those challenges,” said Montalvo.

Montalvo faced the challenges of working as a nurse on a COVID-19 floor, taking care of her children while they did online classes, and studying for school to earn her degree.

She explained that her husband and parents were a strong support system, and her children were her motivation.

“My kids, they were my ultimate reason that I needed to finish, that I wanted to finish, because I have daughters and I wanted to show them that anything they put their minds to, they can accomplish it no matter what, no matter what obstacles they come to,” she said.   

Montalvo hopes to move up in the medical field and mentor other nurses and high school students to show them that she is proof of how hard work can pay off.

“There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, don’t give up and just don’t think that your situation that you’re in right now is the situation that you’re going to be in for the rest of your life because you have that power to change,” she said.

Isreal Nicholas Pacheco, a graduate with a master’s in science and social work also overcame challenges throughout his education journey.

“It’s been a lot to accommodate, it’s been quite a ride,” he said.

Pacheco said with the fear of uncertainty along with the challenging coursework, he is proud he overcame those obstacles and credits his family for the support.

“My family, my father, my mother, my grandmother, I’m sure y’all saw her over there in the back getting a little hysterical, and my beautiful fiancé, that’s the best thing that’s happened to me from 2020 and this pandemic,” said Pacheco.

He said strong communication with family and his faith helped him through the process.

“Stay diligent, maintain good communication with family and things will get better,” said Pacheco.