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UTEP Celebrates 2017 Winter Commencement

Last Updated on December 14, 2017 at 4:10 PM

Originally published December 14, 2017

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

The dimming lights in the Don Haskins Center cued the start of UTEP’s evening Commencement ceremony, prompting rousing cheers from family and friends who eagerly waited to celebrate more than 700 summer graduates and fall candidates from the colleges of Engineering, Health Sciences and Science.

UTEP graduates
UTEP graduates. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications

The evening ceremony was the last of The University of Texas at El Paso’s three Commencement ceremonies that honored more than 2,300 graduates on Dec. 16, 2017. More than 20,000 graduates, family members and friends celebrated at the Don Haskins Center throughout the day.

As UTEP offensive lineman Will Hernandez emerged onto the Don Haskins Center floor from the tunnel, he peeked up into the stands, hoping to catch a glimpse of his uncle Daniel Limas and his sister Katherine Hernandez. They dropped off the Las Vegas, Nevada, native his first day at UTEP five years ago.

“Now they’re going to be here for my last day also,” said Hernandez, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology. “They’ve been here literally since day one.”

Hernandez, who was named to the All-Conference USA first team in early December, credits his kinesiology education with helping his football career. After graduation, he will be training for the NFL draft in April.

“Kinesiology has everything to do with your body, how it works physiologically and mechanically, so all that’s applied to football,” said Hernandez, who also has received Associated Press, CBS Sports and FOX Sports All-American honors. “Everything I learned in the classroom regarding my degree, I used on the field, I used on my own body, and it helped me to become a better football player.”

Like Hernandez, Ximena Jauregui also is looking forward to starting the next chapter in her life this coming spring. Jauregui, who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, will start UTEP’s graduate program in civil engineering in January 2018.

“I feel like I’ll be less stressed at least for a month,” said Jauregui, who worked as a web developer for UTEP’s Extended University since her freshman year. “I feel great satisfaction for all the work I’ve been doing for the past five years.”

In typical fashion for UTEP civil engineering graduates, Jauregui and her classmate Denise Garcia donned orange hard hats instead of the traditional mortar boards.  

“This is like celebrating our entry into the real world,” a beaming Jauregui said, pointing to her head. “They give it to us as a recognition because this is something that civil engineers wear.”

Soon after graduates took their seats on the Don Haskins’ floor, UTEP President Diana Natalicio recognized Professor of Geological Sciences Diane Doser, Ph.D., who served as the ceremony’s Grand Marshal.

During her 31 years at UTEP, Doser, who is the director of UTEP’s Kidd Memorial Seismic Observatory, has been repeatedly recognized for her outstanding teaching and contributions to global society. In 2010, she received The University of Texas System Board of Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, and in 2016, she was presented with the Distinguished Service Award from the Seismological Society of America.

In President Natalicio’s final remarks to the class of 2017, she urged graduates to make the most of their UTEP education out in the real world.

“Here each of you has developed your special talents and abilities,” President Natalicio said. “Go out from this Commencement — this beginning — and use what you have learned here to the fullest.”  

View more photos from the 7 p.m. ceremony, featuring graduates from the colleges of Engineering, Health Sciences and Science


Pascual Saul Marin III reveled in the cheers and applause of the approximately 5,400 people who attended The University of Texas at El Paso’s afternoon Commencement ceremony … even if he could not hear it.

Marin, who earned his Master of Education in special education, was one of the more than 860 summer graduates and fall candidates from the School of Nursing and the colleges of Education and Business Administration who was eligible to participate in the ceremony.

Speaking through interpreter Hector Flores, Marin said he was excited to participate in the ceremony and grateful to his family and everyone at UTEP who helped him achieve his goal. The native of Denver, Colorado, lauded faculty members and staff at UTEP’s Center for Accommodations and Support Services for their support.

“Yes, I made it,” Marin signed emphatically. “I overcame many challenges so I am proud to be a graduating Miner. Go Miners! Picks up!”

The Clint, Texas, resident, who earned his bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies from UTEP in 2011, said he is applying at area school districts and hopes to teach students with disabilities at the elementary school level.

President Natalicio told the graduates that she was proud of all their accomplishments and inspired by the role UTEP played to unlock their potential. She shared her comments behind a lectern in the middle of a wide stage decorated by poinsettias and green plants. She was backed by UTEP leaders on either side of her.

“You set high aspirations for yourselves, persevered and worked hard to develop your talents and achieve your goals,” she said. “(You have) greatly increased the probability that the success you celebrate this afternoon will serve as a springboard for other big dreams that you’ll achieve in the future, much as you did this one.“

While many of her classmates took “selfies” and talked among themselves, Ashley Hill used some of her pre-ceremony time to think of her grandmother, a retired nurse living in San Diego, California. Hill earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing and served as the ceremony’s student marshal for her school.

Hill, who graduated summa cum laude, said she speaks with her grandmother often and they discuss the changes in the field of nursing. The plan was for her grandmother to watch a livestream of the ceremony from her home.

“My grandma inspired me,” said Hill, who had a colorful assortment of stoles and cords around her neck that represented academic achievement and community service. “She taught me to take care of others.”

Hill praised the University’s nursing school for the rigorous academics that gave her a solid foundation to start her career. She also lauded the teachers, whose caring attitude provided a sense of comfort.

She has applied at a local hospital to be a pediatric intensive care unit nurse. She added that she wants to return at some point for graduate school.

Early in the ceremony, President Natalicio recognized Maria Alvarez Amaya, Ph.D., professor of nursing, who was the ceremony’s Grand Marshal. She mentioned several of Alvarez’s accomplishments such as being the first UTEP nursing researcher to work with the National Institutes of Health director for community-based participatory research.

View more photos from the 2 p.m. ceremony, featuring graduates from the colleges of Business Administration and Education, and the School of Nursing


For the last three years, Javier Aguilar was a regular fixture at the Don Haskins Center. But this weekend marked the first time anyone inside the arena on the campus of The University of Texas at El Paso saw his face.

Aguilar previously served as Paydirt Pete, the UTEP mascot, donning the outsized prospector costume and exhorting fans who cheered on the Miners’ athletics teams. On Saturday morning, Dec. 16, 2017, he found himself in the unfamiliar role of being the focus of cheers as he joined graduates of the College of Liberal Arts during the first of three Winter Commencement ceremonies. About 720 summer graduates and winter candidates from the college were eligible to walk the stage.

“It’s the weirdest feeling because I’m used to wearing the suit, especially inside the Don Haskins Center,” said Aguilar, who earned his degree in multimedia journalism with a minor in criminal justice. “But, carrying the pick and letting people know that I’m Pete is … really special. It’s a lot of emotion. I’m happy, but at the same time, I’m sad that I’m leaving the University.”

President Natalicio told graduates during the morning ceremony that they should be proud of their accomplishments.

“A few short years ago, some of you might have never imagined being here with your family members and friends to celebrate this major milestone in your life,” President Natalicio said. “But here you are! You set high aspirations for yourselves, persevered and worked hard to develop your talents and achieve your goals, and greatly increased the probability that the success you celebrate this morning will serve as a springboard for other big dreams that you’ll achieve in the future, much as you did this one.”

One of those graduates who is finding success quickly is Brenda Ponce, who was awarded her degree in English and a minor in education.

She said the route to her degree was somewhat circuitous, as she left high school in 2005. But it has yielded immediate gains. Ponce said she has already accepted a position teaching English at Franklin High School in El Paso.

“I’m grateful, thankful and happy to finally be done with it,” Ponce said in the moments before entering the Haskins Center. “I’m excited, a little bit nervous. But mostly, I’m relieved to be done.”

Early in the ceremony, President Natalicio recognized the work of Kathleen Staudt, Ph.D, retired political science professor, for her service to the University. Staudt joined the faculty in 1977 and dedicated her time to studies in public policy, border issues, women and politics. She founded the Center for Civic Engagement in 1998. In 2008, she was awarded the University of Texas System Chancellor’s Innovation in Teaching Award. Staudt bore the University Mace during the ceremony and served as the Grand Marshal.

President Natalicio also recognized the contributions of family members and other loved ones who aided the graduates in their journeys.

“The University is proud of the work of all of today’s graduates, and we expect to be proud of their accomplishments in the future,” she said. “We know that you, in the audience, are immensely proud of them as well. They are indebted to you for the love and support you have given them as they pursued their educational dreams.”

View more photos from the 9 a.m. ceremony, featuring graduates from the College of Liberal Arts