As Pharrell’s song “Happy” looped again on the loudspeaker, freshly minted graduate Eudoxia Jules was finding her way through the rows of chairs surrounded by friends and family.
The University of Brownsville’s commencement ceremony had just ended and some of the day’s 683 degree candidates were milling about, some finding their way across the resaca to attend lunchtime celebrations.
But Jules, who had just earned her bachelor’s in nursing, was in no such hurry as she danced down the aisle.
“I’m from the Caribbean, and that’s how we do it,” she said, her smile shining brightly beneath blue skies.
Celebrations were breaking out across the lawn as graduates celebrated their accomplishments with endless family photo shoots, selfies and congratulatory hugs.
Jules, who is from St. Lucia by way of New York and Milwaukee, had family in from across the Caribbean for her big day.
She said she’s been a nurse for years, but having a bachelor’s would open more options for her.
Jose Alberto Garcia, who earned his degree in criminal justice, said he was already making plans to apply for his dream job: to be a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer.
The hiring process can be slow, though, he said, sometimes taking up to a year, so he’s looking into getting a job as a detention officer with the federal jail in the meantime.
He said being a canine handler with CBP, the position he’d someday like to have, appeals to him because he is enthralled by the game of “cat and mouse” being played between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and drug smugglers.
His courses at UTB taught him about the laws, rights and how the criminal justice system works, he said, so he thinks his education will help him when he gets a job.
But for Beatrice Cortez-Martinez, who already has a job and five daughters, getting her master’s degree was about giving her the leg up she needed to one day become a principal.
Martinez said she’s next going to get her principal’s certification at the University of Texas-Pan American.
She said it was difficult to earn her degree as a single mother already working as an instructional facilitator, but credited her family, many of whom attended commencement, with helping her.
“My girls have been very patient,” she said, adding that she feels her story should encourage others to go back to school if they’re so inclined. “If a 45-year-old single mother can do it, I think anybody can do it,” she said.