North Toward Home

On the evening of Aug. 2, an army of volunteers descended on the lobby of an IBC Bank in Brownsville.

Within minutes, the severe mahogany-and-leather décor was transformed into an orange-and-white wonderland. A giant inflatable Hook ’em mascot graced the doorway; helium balloons strained against their ribbons; hundreds of orange-frosted cupcakes lined up at the ready. Clay pots of fajita fixings steamed in front of the bank’s steel vault.

Then the students began to arrive, and their eager, nervous anticipation was palpable. In one corner, three girls with orange bows in their hair surveyed the scene in furtive glances up from their iPhones. Parents shook hands and chatted over chips and queso.

The 18th annual Brownsville Student Send-Off had begun. Put on by the Texas Exes Brownsville Chapter, the send-off is for incoming UT freshmen from the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The event gives students a chance to meet future classmates and get excited to start college. And for the past three years, UT President Bill Powers has flown in to speak at the event. He took to the podium before a crowd of 40 students and more than 100 family members and alumni volunteers.

“It’s special that this event is held in an ordinary place, not a banquet hall,” Powers said. “People make deposits here. It’s a little bit like gathering on Main Street in the old days.”

He urged the students to celebrate the hard work it took to get to UT—“those Thursday nights when your friends went to a movie, and you studied for a test”—and reassured their parents: “I am here to say that we are going to take care of your sons and daughters at their home away from home.”

Upperclassman Tony Flor, a senior studying finance, spoke about the student organization he founded, Valley Longhorn Students.

“Especially as a freshman, UT can seem big and lonely at times,” he said. “So when you meet someone else from where you’re from, you have this special bond.”

UT English professor Oscar Cásares, a novelist and Brownsville native who also directs UT’s English MFA program, told students that the Valley’s strong sense of community is alive and well on UT’s campus.

“My door is always open,” Cásares said. “Drop by my office any time. You know, even in Austin, you’re never too far from Brownsville.”


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