More Than Just a Bike: Graduating UTRGV student reflects educational commute - Brownsville Herald: Education

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More Than Just a Bike: Graduating UTRGV student reflects educational commute

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Posted: Monday, December 16, 2019 11:38 am

EDINBURG – It was more than a year ago when Brandon Ramirez, a UTRGV manufacturing engineering student, shared his personal and relatable story about getting an education in the United States while living in Mexico.

He would wake up about 5 a.m., leave his home in Matamoros, grab his bicycle and pedal across the U.S.-Mexico border, often in triple-digit heat – to get to the UTRGV campus in Brownsville.

Then, he would wait for the shuttle to get to the Edinburg Campus, go to classes, finish any assignments he had and take the shuttle back to Brownsville. Then he would ride his bicycle back across the border to his home in Mexico. Only to press repeat the following the day.

Some big changes have happened for Ramirez since his story was first published. He was able to find an apartment in Edinburg, started working for the International Admissions and Students Services Office and continued his education at a calmer pace.

He graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering.

Ramirez still gets up early because he has commitments, but it doesn’t compare to what he had to do before.

“That was the most difficult part – to wake up, cross the border, get here, and everything in a single day. Now that I live here, it’s super different. The lifestyle is calmer. There’s a more relaxed time frame, and I enjoy more of what I get to do,” he said.

Ask him if he’ll stop riding the bicycle and the answer is, “Not yet.” He has a newer bike and would upgrade, but there is sentimental value to riding his old bike, which he named “Limousine.”

“It symbolizes effort, a lot of work and a lot of passion. It has been with me all my university career.

“Plus, I can get anywhere super fast,” he said, grinning.

PART OF A FAMILY

UTRGV has been a welcoming beacon for Ramirez, with the classes, the friends he’s made, his work supervisors and the professors who were his mentors.

He won’t miss the exams, he said, but he will miss the projects, his friends, his professors and the university community.

He is especially grateful to Ala Qubbaj, dean of College of Engineering and Computer Science, who helped guide him to finish his college career. The obstacles he faced early on – crossing the border every day, being mindful of the bus schedules – and eventually overcame were all worth it.

“Every single second of my life was worth it,” Ramirez said.

He credits UTRGV with offering rewarding opportunities, above and beyond an education.

“It feels like a family here. Whenever I enter the campus, I feel like I am welcomed. I felt like everyone I see is part of this family,” he said.

THE NEXT BIG STEP

Ramirez’s dream is to work for Tesla, Elon Musk’s California-based automotive company. Open his laptop and you’ll find the Tesla brand as the desktop background.

“I picked Tesla because Elon Musk is one of my dream leaders,” he said. “I’m really curious about electric cars. This electric cars concept is futuristic for me and I want to learn more about it.”

As he prepares to accept his diploma, the realization is sinking in that he has done it. All the hard work, all the sweat, all the late nights, tears and stress – have paid off and led him to where he is today.

“I know that for every effort, there’s a cost. But the cost is beneficial at the same time,” he said. “You’re putting yourself into a hard situation, but the benefit is huge.”

After graduation, Ramirez would like to find an internship or a job in the United States, where opportunities are more substantial.

“My parents worked hard all the time for me to get this education,” he said. “The best way to pay them back is to help them relax knowing I’m in a country where I can stay safe and continue to advance.”

‘THERE IS ALWAYS A REWARD’

As his final semester at UTRGV inched closer to Dec. 14, Ramirez admitted that graduation will be a mix of emotions. But he is confident that he will be ready to take all he has learned from his classes and apply it to his future career.

Ramirez’s parents will be in the audience, “sitting in VIP,” he said, his face wreathed with happiness. What he’s done, how far he has come, the diploma he’ll be earning: “It was all for them.”

“For my parents, it means a lot. In Mexico, so few have the opportunity to study outside the country. So, for my parents to see I’m getting a diploma here, it’s the best thing that could have happened to them.”

His parents continue to be his driving force and the inspiration for him to continue. There were moments, he admits, when he wanted to give up. But his parents were his constant, his motivation.

His parents still reside in Mexico. His mother, Deborah García Valdovino, is a stay-at-home mom, and his father, Roberto Flores Romero, works at a freight agency. He knows how hard they have worked for years to help him get an education. Graduation is his personal “thank you” gift to them.

“This diploma is for them. Even if I put in the hard work, I want to give this diploma to them so they can feel calm, happy and excited,” he said. “All my hard work is for them to be happy.”

His mother’s face radiates pride that her son is graduating, and she says she is “the happiest mom on the planet.”

She saw the struggles he went through to cross the border every day, she said, but she knew her son was driven to overcome obstacles. She wants only the best for him.

“I wish my son everything good for him. That he accomplishes all his goals and dreams. Brandon is so dedicated,” she said. “And if, for the rest of his life, he continues as he is today, he will live a full and great life. I love him.”

His father recalled the video from last year about his son’s journey.

“I don’t express my feelings a lot, but it did make me very emotional,” he said.

He wanted to advise Brandon to keep moving forward, to never stop learning, to be happy and to find stability in life, wherever that may be.

“Never stop fighting, please. Never stop fighting,” he said, in a message to his son. “I want to say, ‘Never stop moving toward what you want.’ I want to say, ‘Be happy.’

“I love him. I’m very proud of him,” his father said, visibly struggling to hold back tears. “We don’t have the words to say everything we want to say.”

Ramirez is completely open about his parents’ role in his past, present and future.

“Without them, I wouldn’t do it. Without my parents’ efforts, I wouldn’t be here, about to graduate,” he said.

Asked if there was anything, he wanted to tell his parents, Ramirez struggled for a time to find the words he needed, but eventually, they came to him.

“You are my inspiration. Thanks to you, I am where I am,” he said, as tears fell. “I love you so much, and your motivation is the greatest gift I could receive.”

Then he referred again to a dicho, a saying he had cited in last year’s video about his journey.

“After all this hard work,” he said, “there is always a reward.”

“El sudor de hoy es la dulzura de mañana.”