(HARLINGEN) – After taking a year off from college to help her family pay the bills and save for tuition, Rachel Avila finally earned her associate degree in Architectural Design and Engineering Graphics during Texas State Technical College’s Fall 2017 commencement ceremony Friday night at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium.
Too add to the celebration, the 25-year-old also started her new career earlier in the week before with SpawGlass, a construction company, as a Logistics Coordinator reviewing floor plans and blue prints.
“Everything that is happening is so surreal,” said Avila. “I never saw myself in a cap and gown and starting a career. I can’t believe so many good things are happening.”
The San Juan native is a first-generation college graduate whose family has struggled to make ends meet for most of her life, yet they managed to pay for college out of pocket.
“I was lost before TSTC,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what my passion was. All I knew is that I wanted to break the cycle of poverty and education was my answer. I had to achieve it no matter what.”
Avila is the second oldest of five siblings and said she hopes that her new-found success serves as a reminder and inspiration to her younger brothers and sisters that a college education is important and that anything is possible.
“My parents have always depended on us to work, but in my mind I knew there was more to life than just dead-end jobs that pay minimum wage,” said Avila. “I wanted to get ahead for myself and for my family and I feel that TSTC has made that possible.”
TSTC alumnus and commencement speaker Dr. Juan Mejia, provost and vice president for Academic and Student Affairs at Tyler Junior College and 2017 recipient of the Nelson Award from the Texas Association of Community Colleges, addressed the close to 300 graduates and shared that it was TSTC that shaped his future.
“Today is a day of celebration for the entire college community and the students graduating are the signature of authenticity of a job well done,” said Mejia. “It is because of TSTC that I was able to fast track towards gainful employment, and it is because of great faculty and staff that I found my calling to pursue a career in education.”
As for Avila, she said she will work and gain experience before returning to TSTC’s University Center to earn a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M-Kingsville in Architectural Engineering.
She added she will also help support her family and save money again for tuition and a reliable car.
“I’ve commuted from San Juan to Harlingen these past couple of years afraid that my car was going to die,” she said. “It’s time to find one that will get me from home to work with no problem.”
Avila added, “It’s been a journey and TSTC has helped me grow up, find myself and find my dream. I want to thank everyone who welcomed me on campus and helped me and my family get ahead in life.”
Registration for Spring 2018 is underway. The last day to register is January 2.
For more information on TSTC and its programs or to apply and register, visit tstc.edu.