A Most Poignant Farewell

A Most Poignant Farewell

This article originally appeared in The Monitor.

This is the season of high emotion for parents of college-bound kids. It’s a joyous moment in which we are filled with pride. And it’s a moment of tremendous sadness as we bid farewell to the greatest objects of our love and veneration: our children.

For border residents, such as those from the Rio Grande Valley, I believe there is something even more poignant about this moment.

When I took off from my border hometown of El Paso more than 30 years ago to attend The University of Texas at Austin, my brother—in whose footsteps I followed—gave me some profound advice. Remember, he said, you’re going to a school that has the state’s richest students sitting in class next to the state’s poorest students.

The contrast, which rings just as true today, sets up challenges for both types of students.

Some students at this campus are related to those whose names adorn the many buildings, while others are the first in their family to ever attend college. And that’s part of the reason UT-Austin President Bill Powers annually visits the Valley.

Powers was in Brownsville on Aug. 6 to participate in his eighth welcome/farewell ceremony, an evening that he agrees is filled with poignancy—and hope. He graciously met privately with me before the ceremony was to begin and explained something extraordinary: that of all the countless ceremonies like this held by the University throughout the state, he only attends the one held in Brownsville.

“Brownsville invented the idea of the send-off,” Powers told me before meeting with about 120 students and their parents at a Brownsville bank. “The community sorts of collectively gets them on the train—figuratively, not literally—and sends them off to college.”

The poignancy, he says, comes in witnessing students come with their parents, who are alumni of UT, seated besides students who are with their parents who never attended college. “It’s a great moment and it’s transformative,” Powers observes. “This will change their lives.”

But for Powers, perhaps a greater poignancy is witnessing younger siblings at the event, siblings that Powers knows are taking the moment in and whose understanding about life’s possibilities are suddenly expanded as they see older brothers and sisters forge new opportunities.

His observation had a profound impact on me as I recalled seeing my brother head off to Austin, knowing the dynamics that were at play at that very moment.

My brother, an academic standout, attended the University of Texas at El Paso his freshman year and did well enough that he was offered a full undergraduate scholarship, which would have lifted a huge financial concern off of the first person in our family to attend college. But his dream was to go to school in Austin, at the state’s flagship university and despite all the pressures from family and friends to stay in El Paso, he left for Austin to pursue it.

Not only did that have an impact on me, but the legacy of that story accompanies my own son who heads off to Austin for his third year at UT next week. He leaves behind an 11-year-old sister and 16-year-old brother who undoubtedly are watching his every move.

Carlos Sanchez, BJ ’82, is editor of The Monitor.


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