Island University Celebrates Largest Commencement To Date

Click here to watch the 10 a.m. ceremony.

Click here to watch the 2 p.m. ceremony.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – More than 1,160 graduates walked across the stage during Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Spring 2019 Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 11, making it the largest Islander graduation ceremony to date.

The two ceremonies, hosted at the American Bank Center, were at 10 a.m. for the College of Liberal Arts, College of Science and Engineering, and University College, while the 2 p.m. ceremony was for the College of Business, College of Education and Human Development, and College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Exuberant family and friends greeted students dressed in black robes adorned with cords, stoles, and pins as they entered the American Bank Center arena. Dr. Kelly M. Quintanilla, President and CEO of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, introduced the platform party, along with keynote speaker, Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales.Canales is the great niece of Dr. Hector P. Garcia, the founder of the American G.I. Forum Hispanic veterans and civil rights organization. Quintanilla, the first woman to serve as University president at the Island University, noted in her introduction that Canales is the first woman elected to serve as county judge in the 172-year history of Nueces County.

“Your beautiful campus is unique because it has an outdoor plaza dedicated to a local hero, a great American who is a civil rights icon in our nation – a reminder for all to see: larger than life in bronze,” Canales said, referring to the statue of Dr. Garcia on campus.

She noted a campus tradition in which students visit the statue of Dr. Garcia before a test.  

“I think it’s wonderful when I’m on campus and see somebody run by and hastily reach over the fountain and rub his feet very quickly. The blessing, if you will, is for good luck, good tidings on whatever major project or exam you have,” Canales said. “And I think he would be thrilled because he was accustomed to people coming to him for blessings, for healing as a medical doctor, as a great humanitarian. That legacy belongs to you now.”      

Reflecting on the dynamic energy of ocean waves, Canales used a surfing metaphor to inspire graduates to make the most of the remarkable opportunity that lies ahead.   

“The perfect wave – the one you want to ride – is meaningful after you’ve missed a few,” she said. “I know that to be really brave in this world, to be courageous and bold, can be really frightening. But I know your wave is waiting for you; that’s what this moment is all about.” 

For Santos “Tommy” Cantu, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music, graduation for the Robstown native meant the end of a journey that began at Del Mar College. A vocal education major, Cantu credited Dr. Hope Thacker, Assistant Professor of Music, for helping him to develop into the singer that he is today.  

“Dr. Thacker is a tremendous, tremendous professor; I would not be the singer that I am and the teacher that I am if it wasn’t for her,” Cantu said.

Following graduation, Cantu hopes to teach students in the Corpus Christi Independent School District. Cantu said while he is the first in his family to graduate from the Island University, he’s already looking forward to the next graduation ceremony a few years down the road.

“My older brother Mark is right behind me,” Cantu said. “He’s in music education as well and is hoping to graduate next spring. We’re all cheering for him and can’t wait for him to graduate, too.”

Courtney Allen, a graduate of the College of Science and Engineering is gearing up to start her dream job as an environmental investigator with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“I grew up loving the outdoors,” Allen said. “I needed to do my part in the community and help better it so that’s what inspired me to go into this field. It’s my way of giving back and doing what I love.”

She starts her new position at the end of May and plans to move to the DFW metroplex the next few days.

“I’m scared but excited,” she said. “If you stay comfortable doing something and don’t take risks then you won’t get the reward.”

During the second ceremony, President Quintanilla presented business woman and philanthropist Mrs. Jessie Frances Neal with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Neal established the Jessie Frances Neal Foundation to provide scholarship opportunities for Island University College of Business students in 2014. In addition to annual scholarship support, Neal has funded a $1 million endowment to create the Jessie France Neal and Clifton W. Coonrod Endowed Chair in Accounting and Business.

Neal scholarship recipient Cassandra Pena earned a Bachelor of Business Administration on Saturday; she said was excited to see her benefactor receive an honorary doctorate on the same day.

“Mrs. Neal’s scholarship has helped me to accomplish my goal, which is to graduate with my undergraduate degree debt-free,” Pena said. “The fact that she’s receiving an honorary doctorate at my ceremony is a touching moment. It is a special connection – she followed me through my three years at university and now the University is able to give back to her and honor her. So it kind of comes full circle.” 

Victor Ortiz, who graduated Saturday with a degree in sports management, worked part-time for nearly three years with Islanders Athletics. He recently accepted a full-time position with Athletics as a marketing assistant.

“Sports unifies everyone,” Ortiz, a Knippa, Texas, native said. “You can put your differences aside and come together for the love of sports.”

College of Nursing and Health Sciences graduate Kayla Potteiger earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences. She said her time at the Island University marked a move from the small campuses of her youth to a larger-scale university campus.

“I went to a community college in North Texas and there was only one facility so this was a welcome change,” Potteiger said.

Following graduation, Potteiger says she plans to move to San Antonio seek a job as a project manager. She credits her professors with helping her to hone her skills as she prepares to enter the workforce.

“My professors had high standards and I appreciated that,” she said. “I learned time management and organizational skills, which are essential in the workplace, so learning those types of skills definitely helped me to grow.”

Additional Information

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Islanders Athletics held a Spring Athletic Commencement ceremony on Monday, May 13, for three student-athletes who were on the road for a three-game baseball series May 10-12 at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The intimate ceremony was held in the Performing Arts Center at the Island University and was led by Dr. Kelly M. Quintanilla, President and CEO of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and included a keynote speech by Athletics Director Jon Palumbo. Outfielder Nicholas Michael Anderson received a Bachelor of Business Administration, and Right-Handed Pitcher Tate Christian Gillespie and Outfielder Thomas Eugene Jeffries IV both received a Bachelor of Arts. Visit the link to see photos from the ceremony.