Thank you for that kind introduction, Dr. Jesus Roberto Rodriguez. I am humbled and honored to be with you today—the Texas Southmost College Fall Class of 2021.
As a TSC and UT-Brownsville alum, this is a homecoming for me. And a chance to say thank you to everyone who has been part of my journey so far.
Good morning! Buenos dias. It’s good to be in Brownsville, Texas, my beloved hometown where I grew up! I’m always excited to be here. Arriva el Valle! Arriva!
Greetings to all – members of the Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees, esteemed faculty, staff, families in attendance and future graduates of TSC.
When I received the invitation to be the commencement speaker for today’s graduating class, I thought about how to begin this speech.
Well, before that, I was a little bit shocked, honestly. For a moment, it felt unreal. I wanted to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream.
I had to take it all in—the opportunity, the responsibility, the humility—it all came rushing in.
I was processing what this moment—right here, right now—what it means to me, my family, my friends, and, most importantly, for each and every one of you.
After enthusiastically accepting – yes, of course I want to be commencement speaker for this incredible class of graduates – I gave a lot of thought as to what I would say – how to inspire you – where to start.
I thought about my time growing up in Brownsville, near the border, just a few miles from the Rio Grande and family in friends in Mexico.
I thought about my days as a child playing in las conpuertas near Raul Besteiro Middle School.
About the afternoons my dad, brother and I would spend fishing at the river, near the orange groves, sometimes in sight of people crossing the river.
I thought about my days as a student at Reynaldo Garza Elementary School, Filemon B. Vela Middle School and Homer Hanna High School.
My days as an altar boy at Good Shepard Catholic Church on Tulipan Street.
I thought about the times my mom would bring me and my brother to TSC when we were little kids as she studied accounting and business while caring for two young boys and working odd jobs to make ends meet.
I thought about when my brother and I would play by the fountain outside the Arnulfo L. Oliveira Memorial Library, while mom read her many books and took pages and pages of notes as a non-traditional student in her 50s.
I thought about the many times we crossed the bridge, el puente, in car or by walking from Brownsville to Matamoros or from Matamoros to Brownsville. In hindsight now, I can appreciate what unites our two cities – in ways that only people who grew up on the border – like many of you and like me – can really understand.
I thought about when my mom used to take me and my brother to City meetings as little boys while she served on various committees. The mayor and commissioners would always tell my mom, tiene unos ninos muy lindos.
I thought about my first time going to a football game at Sam’s Stadium or swimming at Tony Gonzalez Park and Oliveira Park during the hot summer days.
Playing baseball with my friends in West Brownsville and going to La Pulga 77 to buy naranjas and other interesting things on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Fast forward and I thought about the mixed emotions I had when entering college in the summer of 2004. And what attending school here would be like.
I thought about a lot of things. I’m still thinking of others. I could spend most of the morning/day telling you about those.
But I never thought I’d be standing here.
So, forgive me if I still seem just a little surprised. It means so much to be chosen among the many distinguished graduates who have walked these halls and this stage. To be asked to deliver this speech to such a special class – a special group of people who love this school and this community as I do, and who are part of the fabric that brings together people who are fronterizos.
Thirteen years ago exactly, I was supposed to graduate and walk the stage, like you. Life and circumstances got in the way.
So, this commencement is extra special to me.
Because in a way, it’s my graduation ceremony too! The struggle was real for me to get through college and graduate. But it was worth it.
I am living proof of how valuable an education is—not just for a young kid growing up on the border with dreams of making a difference with his life and career. But for everyone.
You see – we all have struggles in life. I have had many as I am sure you have had your fair share of struggles too.
Let’s be honest– life is a constant struggle.
The hustle is real, too!
And while we are being honest . . . I have something to admit.
I was never an A student or a B student – ever. I was a solid C student – if that!
I remember not being able to pass my Biology Lab I and Biology Lab II classes, and going up to my professor and telling him, “Sir, I only need these two classes to graduate.”
The professor looked at me and said “you can do it, study hard!” I got a C in each class, just enough to get by, and that was the end of that!
Becoming the person I am today took time and effort. Lots of restless nights, commitment, and determination, but it can be done.
When I was growing up here, I used to think, “What can I do to make an honest living and make it in life and make my parents proud?” After all, I felt that was the barometer I had to meet.
My story as a student at TSC started in late spring 2004 when I first walked into Tandy Hall to register for my first set of classes as a first generation Mexican American student and proud Texan.
I remember walking up to Tandy Hall that May 2004 to go to the registrar’s office to begin the process of registering for classes. I then went to the financial aid office, then located on the second floor of Tandy Hall and finally to the advising center to pick my three summer courses – English Composition I, History I, and Speech – I still remember the professors’ names.
As I walked to the registrar’s office, I remember I was very much looking forward to this new chapter of my life but I was also worried about what that new chapter would bring.
There were a lot of emotions.
I was scared but also confident.
I felt empowered and proud.
I didn’t know then – walking up to the window to register – how far I had already come.
Like many of you, I come from humble beginnings.
My brother Juan and I slept on the floor at our aunt’s house in La Posada until I was 12 years old – Juan was 11. We did not have our own beds or bedroom’s because we lived with my tia and tio. My mother also slept on the floor with us. We lived with my aunt for several years as my mom and dad worked hard to build a home for us in the northern part of the city.
When I finished the 5th grade at Garza Elementary School on Esperanza Road, my mom, dad, brother and I moved into our own home off FM 802 – near the Sunrise Mall and Taco Bell.
It felt wonderful to move into a small two bedroom home that took so much effort and hard work to build – a home that was ours. At that time, my brother and I each got a bed and we felt like the world was ours. Can you believe that we no longer had to sleep on the floor? What a blessing – a true blessing. I was so happy during those first few days that I got to sleep in my own bed. It was delightful.
Thinking back about this period of time in my life, when my family faced such adversity, even though each day we were happy just to be together, I really believe that time helped shape the person I would become.
I remember telling my 12-year-old self, “one day I will make it in life so me and my family don’t have to sleep on the floor ever again.” And I was determined to achieve that.
Almost 20 years have passed since I first drove down International Boulevard in my 1992 Ford Taurus looking for a parking spot near the Jacob Brown Auditorium to run to class.
A lot has changed since 2004. Our world has changed – some would say for the better; others would say for the worse. I say we still have to wait and see.
In the past 17 years, our country has endured. We have seen good days, bad days, and just OK days. And oftentimes, we can’t agree which days were which.
We went to war with Iraq after 9/11.
Our country’s economy was on the brink of collapse in 2008 after the financial crisis that caused millions of people to lose their savings and homes.
We saw the first African American elected President of the United States. We saw a woman lead a major party ticket for the first time. And we now have a woman Vice President.
For me, I went from being a reporter at The Brownsville Herald to working in the halls of the United States Congress for amazing people like Solomon Ortiz, Henry Cuellar, Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez. Each one of them has taught me invaluable lessons in life. I owe much of what I am to them today.
I have had a front row seat to history in both roles as a reporter and Congressional staffer. Moments that have shaped our country. I have traveled the world – to places like the Middle East, Asia, Africa and throughout the Americas learning from many people, cultures, and experiences.
Working in Congress prepared me for many things – taught me to be on my toes all the time and be ready at a moment’s notice to kick into high gear to do what was needed for the good and well-being of our people and our country.
But nothing in the past decade has prepared me – or could have prepared us – for the past two years, or the chaos and heartbreak of this global pandemic that’s hit so close to home.
All of us here have survived a once in a century pandemic that has so far claimed close to 800,000 American lives, that’s the official number but I’m sure the actual number is much higher.
We have lost many of our friends, loved ones, tios, tias, parents and abuelitos to COVID-19.
We all know someone who has died of COVID-19. Because we are here, it means we have survived it. And we’re lucky. But it’s also bittersweet to be celebrating this moment with just the memory of all those we have lost to this horrible virus.
Last summer, just before the 4th of July holiday, my mom, Paula H. Borjon, a TSC alumna herself, became sick and was rushed to a local hospital. My brother, dad and I were in Washington, D.C., at the time and we rushed back to the Valley.
We drove more than 24 hours from Washington to Brownsville to be with my mom.
I will never forget the call from hospital staff on July 6. Mom had tested positive for COVID.
I was sad to say the least. I knew the days and weeks ahead would be difficult.
In September she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that affects how the bone marrow produces blood in our body. She succumbed to cancer on October 27, 2020, after a four-month hard fought battle.
And just like that, the person I most admired in life was gone. In the blink of an eye as people say. We could not properly say goodbye to her because of COVID restrictions. Instead, we waved to her through a hospital window.
That day, and every day since, I hold on to the hope that she’s in a better place.
COVID didn’t take my mom’s life. But the difficulties it caused for her comprehensive care, the limited access to her support system, the communication issues while she was ill. COVID was definitely a factor in our loss.
For those of you here today, thinking about someone you’ve lost, someone who you wish could be here . . . I know.
I’m missing my mom.
While having to endure the loss of my mother, our family was struck with grief and sorrow yet again. This time, my brother, Juan Miguel.
He was killed by a hit-and-run driver on August 7 of this year.
Just 34 years old, with a whole life ahead of him.
Juan, like all of us, was far from perfect and he was taken from us too soon. I am glad for the many times I got to spend with him and pray that I did the best I could to help him along the way in life.
These losses remind me – remind us all – to seize every day, every opportunity, because tomorrow is not promised. What will you do, today?
Today, I stand before you prouder than ever of who I have become in large part because of my mom and brother.
I try to honor their life and legacy each day. I think of them all the time. I carry their picture and remember them with honor and respect.
I’ve always said it, I owe much of what I am to my parents, my mother Paula and my father Jose Guadalupe Borjon.
He is here today and we will celebrate his birthday tomorrow with barbacoa and menudo and memories of mom and Juan. Our loved ones are always with us.
As you prepare to walk the stage today, take a minute to remember all the people that came before you and all the people it took for you to get here. Not just to this place, but to this place in your life. We don’t do it alone.
Think about your parents and grandparents, and what they sacrificed so you could make it this far.
Think about your brothers and sisters, and those who encouraged you to be your best so you could make it in life.
Think about your children, nieces and nephews or Godchildren, and how much they look up to you.
Think about the future.
For some of you, today is the end of your educational career, and you will go on to do great things in life – whatever that may be.
Think about me – just a regular kid from Brownsville, nervous on his first day of school – and remember that it doesn’t matter where you came from, what matters is where you’re going.
I wish you the best of luck.
To others, this is but a stepping stone in your educational career, and much more is ahead.
Good luck to all of you as well.
You see, life may not be easy, but each day we are here is another chance to start over, do better, or do more.
Life happens every day, all around us. We must adapt to it and appreciate it, or we’ll miss it.
Today, I have a couple of recommendations for each of you as you make your way through your professional careers and into the future.
Rule number one – the most important one of all.
Never, and I mean never give up.
If you give up – you lose. And we never give up in anything we do.
I often ask recent college graduates, as I mentor them to enter the workforce, “How bad do you want this?”
They often respond, “Sir, I want this really, really bad.”
And then, I tell them, “Well, if that’s the case you need to work really, really hard and you can never, and I mean never give up.”
Sometimes it may take us days or weeks to achieve a goal and other times it may take us months and years to achieve another goal – we must always keep our eye on the prize and never give up in all we do.
El que se da por vencido pierde, my mom would always tell me. So never give up!
Rule number two – remain humble and true to your roots – never forget where you come from and who you are.
This rule is very important.
Often times, when people make it “big” they forget that they grew up at 1242 Dukie Drive en La Posada Seccion Uno. I never forget that. La Posada and Southmost made me who I am today and I will carry them in my heart and mind forever.
So, as you make it in life and earn more money or achieve a higher title, never forget where you come from and how you got to where life may take you.
It is because of all the collective hard work of so many that we have “made it in life” and we can never, I say must never, forget where we come from.
Be who you always have been. Don’t let money, or fame, or other people’s opinions, ever change you.
Rule number three – keep the faith.
I was raised a Roman Catholic, and I am a devout Catholic. I pray to Jesus our Lord and Savior and la Virgen De Guadalupe often – not only when I am in trouble. I try to pray all the time.
But always keep your faith – whatever it is. Keep your faith and stand by your beliefs and know that there is something greater than ourselves and this life.
La fe mueve montanas, my mom used to say. I believe this to be true.
In my darkest days, I’ve stuck to my faith and my faith has gotten me through. It got me through when my mom died last year and it is getting me through now after my brother’s recent passing.
Rule number four – yes, thank those who came before you for creating a path, but don’t forget those who will come after you and need your help.
Always try to bring others up with you. If you see someone that needs a warm meal or a little bit of money to get by, help them out. If you encounter someone ill that needs medical help, call an ambulance or first responder. If you run into someone that you think has potential but needs a little help to get there, help them get there.
We will be judged by who we are and what we do in this life to help others. Be kind – always!
Rule number five – have fun.
When I was as student at TSC, I was an over achiever in some ways while a slacker in others. I wanted to get done with college so I could go on to work and earn money. I wanted to move at the speed of light.
I was lucky that while going to college, I was able to work at The Brownsville Herald as a young cops reporter, my dream job. I worked 40 plus hours a week and went to college full-time. I can’t believe I could juggle so much at once.
It was all great, but sometimes I sacrificed a little of the fun for so many accomplishments, and looking back at that now, I regret it. Too often in life we get caught up and forget to have a little bit of fun.
But, since all of you today are graduates, I must say, have fun in life. Find a hobby and enjoy it – whether it’s traveling, working out, fishing, hiking, skiing, swimming or running or reading books of interest.
Whatever makes you happy while having fun, do more of it in a responsible manner.
Sometimes we live our lives so fast and at such speed that we forget to have fun, so I encourage you all to have fun and make the best of it always.
We only live once.
As I prepare to close this speech, I would be remiss if I didn’t wonder if our paths will cross again.
We live in an uber-connected world thanks to social media, smartphones, technology and the like.
I have made and kept friends with so many people that I have met throughout the world. And now, I feel like we’ve all met and have shared a special moment for both of us. I’m sure we’ll meet again.
We live in a society that is interconnected, 24/7 – 365 days a year. In the Age of Information.
Make sure to take advantage of that interconnectivity and use it for good.
Use it to learn from others and to value friendships and relationships for what they are worth.
Use it to never forget where you come from and who helped you get this far.
Use it to call your mom and dad and brothers and sisters to tell them how much you love them and care for them.
Use it to teach your children about the many marvels of the world and that there is much more than South Texas.
Use it for good.
I am hopeful that I was able to impart some wisdom and knowledge to each and every one of you. I thank you for teaching me so much about myself through this process.
And, as a side note, as my former counselor at Hanna High School shared with me recently when I posted on Facebook that I would be the commencement speaker about a saying that has evolved.
Prior to the arrival of SpaceX in Brownsville, most of us would to tell people: the sky is the limit because we believed the sky was the limit.
Today I must rectify that because the sky is no longer the limit, for sure not in Brownsville, Texas, our new limit is space and each of us here, and myself included, have the ability to say that space is our limit because of SpaceX.
So I ask that you have it present – space is the limit.
And, to quote my favorite astronaut Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story: “To infinity and beyond!”
I don’t know if you will remember my words today, a month, a year, or a lifetime from now and that is fine.
I hope at least you’ll remember this: As you walk across this stage, and leave your years at TSC behind you, you take with you a wealth that can never be completely spent or stolen from you. You walk away with wisdom, knowledge, experiences, friends—an education. All the things that will last your whole life.
I’m reminded of another quote that I love. This one from another great stargazer, the philosopher, Galileo: “You cannot teach people anything. You can only help them discover it within themselves.”
So go, discover the universe within your hearts and minds, and never, ever give up!
And always remain Scorpion Strong!
Editor’s Note: The above commentary was given by Brownsville native Jose Borjon as a commencement speech at his alum, Texas Southmost College. Borjon is a Washington, D.C.-based senior policy advisor for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer Feld, LLC. The commentary appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Borjon can be reached by email at: [email protected]
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