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UT System Chancellor William McRaven receives a framed copy of the UTRGV mascot from UTRGV Student Government Association President Alberto Adame at UTRGV in Brownsville. (Photo: Paul Chouy)

McALLEN, RGV – On the first day of class, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley opened its doors on Monday to 29,045 students.

The new university will offer more than 5,000 courses, a 300-course increase on what UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville offered last fall.

UT System Chancellor William McRaven was present at both the Edinburg and Brownsville campuses. At Edinburg he participated in a flag-raising ceremony. At Brownsville he participated in a proclamation celebration.

McRaven praised the vision and contributions of his predecessor, Dr. Francisco Cigarroa and former UT System Chairman Gene Powell, both of whom were instrumental in setting up UTRGV by collapsing the Valley’s two legacy universities – UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville and adding a four year School of Medicine.

“If we put forth the imagination, if we put forth the effort, there is nothing that can stop this university from moving in the right direction,” McRaven said. “But today is just the beginning. We will have to work every day, every week, every month and every year to continue to improve what we are starting today. What we do here today will change the social fabric of the Valley. It will make us stronger, healthier, more productive and more tolerant. One hundred years from now, Texas will look back and say that this day changed Texas forever.”

With his wife Georgianna at his side, McRaven later said the beginning of UTRGV was history in the making. “I have been fortunate in my life and in my career to be at points in time where history was being made. I was in the White House for a couple of very significant events … and sometimes, in the middle of a historic event, you don’t realize you’re in the middle of the event. … Well, let me tell you, recognize today. You are in the middle of a historic event.”

A number of dignitaries were present for the opening day celebrations. They included U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa of Mercedes, state Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa of McAllen, UT System Regents Brenda Pejovich of Dallas and Ernest Aliseda of McAllen, and Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell.

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said that when his wife Jan died a couple of years ago he had decided to retire. However, his daughter encouraged him to find something else he could be passionate about. He said becoming president of UTRGV was one of the great honors of his life.

“Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this. What is happening here is one of the most important milestones in American higher education. When we look back ten years from now, we will realize that we did things that nobody else can do,” Bailey said. “What is happening today is unique.”

UTRGV set up Information Depots on both the Brownsville and Edinburg campuses to provide assistance for students as they navigated their way to classes.

Freshman Mikayla Martinez is studying psychology on the Edinburg Campus. She hopes to attend the UTRGV School of Medicine when it opens in order to train to become a psychiatrist. Martinez said college life is clearly different to high school.

“It’s very ‘on your own,’” Martinez said. “It’s a good thing. I like it. We have more responsibility. Being a part of the first class is an awesome experience. Everyone I’ve met so far is really excited … everyone I’ve met has been really positive. My hope for UTRGV is to get the best education that I can, and I definitely think that I’m going to be able to get that here.”

Denisse Molina is Student Government Association vice president at Brownsville and is a senior studying political science. “I feel honored to be representing the Brownsville Campus, and especially because it is the first inaugural year of the university. I look forward to working with every student on the campus to be able to help with whatever SGA can help them with.”