TAMU-CC Graduate Keeps Secret from Family, Earns Surprise Degree in Marketing

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Thanks to modern technology, we are all more connected than ever. Because of that, one could imagine that it would be extraordinarily difficult to keep a major life event secret for years, especially from close family members. That is exactly what recent Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi graduate, new mother, Air Force veteran, and full-time employee Angelia Alaniz did when she began her academic journey and decided to keep the whole thing under wraps from her mom, husband’s parents, and her friends.

Alaniz enrolled at the Island University in fall 2019 and graduated Cum Laude on Dec. 11, 2021, with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing. As she neared the finish line, Alaniz said she knew she wanted to capture the big reveal to her mother, Ginger Thomas. With the help of a local photographer, Alaniz staged a photoshoot that she told her mother would be themed for the upcoming holiday. At the shoot, her mother was greeted not with holiday decorations, but with a cap and gown.

“My mom never attended college because she had my sister when she was really young,” Alaniz said. “I wanted to give her a moment to show her how good she did as a mother. You see these touching moments in movies, and you think, ‘There’s no way someone could pull that off,’ but I did it,” Alaniz said “Also, I wanted to do it for myself. Sometimes, the people that love you will say, ‘Why don’t you slow down instead of taking a full schedule?’ I didn’t want someone to give me a reason to pull back the reins. I didn’t want anybody saying I can’t do something.”

The road to the commencement stage was anything but a breeze for Alaniz. Shortly into her studies, she found herself in the midst of a global pandemic. In 2020, she also found out that she and her husband Mark would be expecting their first child. Through it all, Alaniz worked full time as an Events Specialist in the TAMU-CC Performing Arts Center (PAC), in addition to being a full-time student, at times, taking six classes.

“It was pretty intense, but because of people like my boss, who allowed me to take classes during my lunch break, I was able to keep my family in the dark,” Alaniz said. “I took other classes at night, which was easy to hide because my job has evening events. I also had to cut back my social media use and limit it to just occasional messages.”

Alaniz says that during her time as a student, she really appreciated the connections that she made with her professors, who she says were always responsive, understanding, and considerate. One professor, Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Assistant Professor of Marketing, learned about Alaniz’s big surprise through an in-class reflection assignment.

“Between working full time, being a full-time student, and having a baby, I was so amazed that she handled everything on her plate with such grace,” Taylor said. “When I found out she was going to surprise her mother at graduation, it brought me to tears. As a mom myself, I kept thinking about how proud her mother would be of all she has accomplished.”

The photoshoot was planned for the days leading up to commencement on the scenic trails of the Oso Bay Wetlands Preserve. Alaniz told her mother that the holiday shoot would celebrate three generations of women – her mother, herself, and her daughter, Alaska Lynn.

“When she walked around the corner wearing her cap and gown, I was saying, ‘What are you doing in that?’ I was expecting a Christmas dress,” Thomas said. “That is when she told me she had been going to school for the last two years and she was graduating soon with her degree. I was totally overwhelmed.”

Despite the shock of learning about the surprise graduation, Thomas said she was also thrilled to learn that Alaniz had been accepted to graduate school at TAMU-CC to pursue a master’s degree in finance. She was also just promoted and will start the position of Events Manager at the PAC in the new year.

“I am most proud of the beautiful young woman she has become and all of her accomplishments,” Thomas said. “She had her daughter, got a great job at the university that she loves, got a promotion, went to school secretly to finish her degree, all while working full time. What is not to be proud of. Whatever she dreams, she can achieve.”