Longhorns Gather Together for Texas Exes Graduation Celebrations

A mother and daughter giggled and held hands as they swayed back and forth, pulling towards each other then dancing away again, smiles plastered on their faces from ear to ear. Zoe Alvarez reached to adjust her cap as they danced together, drowning in the cords and stoles that covered her blue dress and black gown.

Student speaker Zoe Alvarez at Celebración.

Texas Exes hosted GraduAsian, Lavender Graduation, Celebración, and Aya Celebration on May 8 and 9. The events were come-and-go celebrations of the accomplishments of class of 2024 graduates, featuring student and faculty speakers as well as performances from different organizations. 

At Celebración, Alvarez was the spotlighted student speaker. During her talk, she told the story of how she is the granddaughter of strawberry pickers in California and South Texas railroad workers and the daughter of two public school educators. Alvarez could see Mexico from her bedroom window in her hometown of Laredo, Texas. She said her parents fought tooth and nail for her to attend a school like UT Austin. 

“Latinx Longhorns take care of Latinx Longhorns, and today is a true testament to that strong bond of our community,” Alvarez said during her speech.

The cultural graduation celebrations give students the opportunity to connect with other Longhorns with whom who they share an affinity and community. 

Cristobal Alcantara is the youngest in his family and the first to graduate. He has been excited about Celebración since he was a freshman and saw others wearing their bright, multicolored sarape stoles. 

“Not having not a traditional name that you can say in English, knowing that someone is going to be able to say it in Spanish is a nice thing to look forward to,” Alcantara said.

The newly minted Dr. Bridges (third from right) and friends pose with Hook ’Em at the Aya Celebration.

The Aya Graduation Celebration honored graduating Black students, offering another space for students to commemorate with alike individuals. Cierra Campbell Bridges, an Aya attendee, proudly described herself as a three-time Longhorn, earning her bachelor’s, master’s and PhD all from UT. In her traditional crimson doctorial cap and gown, she joked that she clearly “bought into the idea of being a Longhorn.” (She also serves as the director of transfer admissions for UT Austin.)

“I come from a very small town outside of Houston, where I am the first-generation graduate in my family,” Bridges said. “It just means so much more to have done it around here. This table here has so many of my friends, and [I see] so many mentees in the room.” 

Like Bridges, many came to the celebrations with friends. Christophe Gault, a Lavender Graduation Celebration attendee, did not know about the event until a friend sent him the invite. 

“I’m glad I showed up,” Gault says. “This was much cooler than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was just going to be like, ‘Oh, hey, here’s your [stole].’ This is so much fun. I’m really excited to just see random people that I know and catch up with more people.” 

The celebrations offered a time to reflect on the connections students made during their college careers. The class of 2024 was one of the most impacted by the pandemic. Many of the graduates did not get a high school graduation and missed out on a normal first two years of college, Zooming into class from their dorm rooms or even their hometowns, some not stepping foot onto campus until their sophomore or junior year.  

“With [the pandemic] and everything, it was really hard to find that sense of community and make friends,” said Amélie Trieu, a GraduAsian attendee. “So, it’s been really cool to see all of the opportunities that not just the institution has for us, but also the alumni network. And [watching] our fellow students and faculty come together to celebrate us, it feels really good. I have a lot of pride right now.”

GraduAsian is a celebration of the accomplishments of UT’s graduating Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA), Native Hawaiian, and Middle Eastern students. Graduates, along with family and friends, fill the Connally Ballroom sporting dark green stoles, as the event  featured speakers and two K-pop dance group performances.  

“I can think of no more quintessential American story than the one of migration, of settlement, of community building, of asserting equal treatment, of working across differences, of boba, of pho, of dosa,” said Eric Tang, director of the Center for Asian American Studies, to the assembled crowd. “With each generation you—we—are making Asian American history. We are making American history.” 

Now, the newest Texas Exes look forward to the next chapter of their lives with even more excellence and success on the horizon. 

“As I stand here today, in a room filled with Latinx graduates, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the future,” Alvarez said. “In this crowd, I see promise—in our Texas Exes, in our Latinx Community Affairs, in our graduates—and it is because of these visionaries who understand the importance of celebrating Latinx excellence that we are gathered here today. Our heritage, our experiences, and our UT education bind us together.” 

Photographs by Matt Wright-Steel


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