UT Tyler graduates reflect on the challenges they overcame

First-generation graduate Jessica Vazquez, BS in Nursing, says, “It’s very surreal.”

TYLER, Texas — Hundreds of students cross the stage this weekend as they graduate from UT Tyler after enduring unprecedented challenges that have altered their college experience.

As the new grads moved their tassels from side to side, they pondered the memories of college they would cherish forever.

Saron Henok, BS in Nursing, says his favorite memories were made while studying in the library with his friends.

For former UT basketball player Tyler Chris Giles, BS in Health and Exercise Science, his time with his basketball team and “growing our fraternity” meant the most to him.

But college also presents challenges like meeting the 11:59 p.m. deadline, waking up for the terrible 8 a.m. classes, or finding a way to pay your tuition.

For Renata Montoya, BS in Kinesiology, “several exams after exams and non-stop studying” are moments she won’t miss from her college experience.

The class of 2022 also had to endure virtual learning, social distancing, the masked era of COVID-19.

For Giles, the pandemic ended one of his basketball seasons prematurely.

Students also experienced the hardships of the winter storm in February 2021. Henok says the week or two of school break delayed his exams and finals for the spring 2021 school semester.

But on Friday, as they crossed that stage, the graduates can say they reached the finish line.

Giles says, “it was a party” after long hours of homework.

Jenifer Vazquez, BS in Nursing, says graduating “feels very surreal.” She adds, “I feel like I’ve done a very big job as a first-generation student.”

Vazquez says her motivation and support during this academic journey are her three children, her husband and her sister.

As one chapter ends and another begins, Montoya will begin to prepare for PA school. Vazquez is ready to go into labor and delivery. She says she also wants to continue her education and get her Masters in Education at UT Tyler.

No matter what challenges life has brought her, Henok says she’s “nervous, but I think I’m ready” to embark on her new journey into adulthood.

Saturday’s outdoor graduation ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. with the College of Education, Psychology, Engineering and Commerce. The university says it will start come rain or shine.

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