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UT Tyler graduates overcome unprecedented challenges

First generation college graduate Jessica Vazquez, B.S. in nursing, says, "it feels very surreal."

TYLER, Texas — Hundreds of students are walking across the stage this weekend as they graduate from UT Tyler after enduring unprecedented challenges that altered their college experience. 

As newly graduates moved their tassels from one side to the other, they reflect on the college memories they'll cherish forever. 

Saron Henok, B.S. in nursing, says her favorite memories were made studying in the library with her friends. 

For former UT Tyler basketball player Chris Giles, B.S. in Health and Exercise Science, his spending time with his basketball team and "growing our brotherhood" meant the most to him. 

But college also presents challenges such as making the 11:59 pm deadline, waking up for the dreadful 8 am classes, or figuring out a way to pay your tuition. 

For Renata Montoya, B.S. in Kinesiology, "several exams after exams and studying nonstop" are moments she won't miss about her collegiate experience. 

Class of 2022 also had to endure the virtual learning, social distancing, masked up COVID-19 era. 

For Giles, the pandemic ended one of his basketball seasons early. 

Students also experienced the hardships of the winter storm in February of 2021. Henok says the week or two break from school, delayed her exams and finals for the Spring '21 school semester. 

But Friday, as they walked across that stage, the graduating class can say they made it to the finish line. 

Giles says, "it was a celebration" after long hours of homework. 

Jenifer Vazquez, B.S. in nursing, says being a graduate "feels very surreal." She adds, "I feel like I've done a very great achievement as a first generation" college student. 

Vazquez says her motivation and support during this academic journey are her three children, husband, and sister. 

As one chapter closes and another begins, Montoya will begin preparing for PA school. Vazquez is ready to get into labor and delivery. She says she also wants to further her education and obtain her masters in education at UT Tyler. 

No matter the challenges life brought her way, Henok says she's "nervous, but I think I'm ready" to embark on her new journey of adulthood. 

Saturday's outdoor graduation ceremonies begin at 10 am featuring the College of Education, Psychology, Engineering and Business. The university says they'll commence rain or shine.

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