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Longtime activist gets honorary Ph.D.

Photo: Alma E. Hernandez / For The San Antonio Express-News

Rosie Castro (BA Spanish ‘71) is hooded by Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Marcheta Evans (left) and her son, former mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Julián Castro, and presented with an honorary doctorate, Sunday, May 14, 2017 as part of the Spring 2017 commencement ceremony for Our Lady of the Lake University at Freeman Coliseum.

More than 500 students graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University this Sunday, making it the largest graduating class in the university’s 121-year history.

“I’m sure that the graduates know exactly how I feel when I say I wouldn’t be standing where I am without my mother,” said Julián Castro, the graduation commencement speaker, former Housing and Urban Development secretary and former San Antonio mayor.

As the ceremony landed on the same day as Mother’s Day, it was only fitting that his mother, Rosie Castro, receive an honorary doctoral degree during OLLU’s commencement. She is leading the effort to host a symposium next year honoring the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearings that took place on OLLU’s campus.

Rosie Castro is the daughter of a Mexican immigrant whose education never passed the fourth grade. She attended OLLU and received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish in 1970, and five years later, another in sociology. She was chair of the political party La Raza Unida for Bexar County and was highly involved in social justice causes, particularly those that advocated for Mexican-Americans. She raised her twins, Julián and Joaquín Castro, now a U.S. congressman, as a single mother on the West Side.

Julián Castro spoke of these experiences growing up to the rows of students in graduation caps, many personalized with a range of messages, from the poetic “The best is yet to come” to the spirited “GO SPURS GO.”

“I know that if we went around this room and each of you told your story, we’d hear amazing, amazing testimony about obstacles that you’ve already overcome to get to where you are today,” Julián Castro said.

More than 50 percent of the undergraduates walking the stage Sunday were first-generation college grads.

Dan Yoxall, vice president of institutional advancement at the university, said the growing number of programs there — including an online master’s in social work program that has more than 900 students across 45 states enrolled — likely led to the 100-plus increase in student graduates this commencement compared to previous years. He also said OLLU’s retention rate for students is continuing to increase.

Yoxall said officials picked Julián Castro to be the speaker because he could be a role model for the students.

“He has a lot in common with our students — that was the No. 1 factor why he was selected,” Yoxall said. “We try to find speakers whose lives resonate with the lives of our students.”

Jordan Thomas, 23, a McNair Scholars Program student, graduated Sunday with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology. Waiting in line to receive his diploma, he said he was “a little nervous” but looking forward to the emotional high he’d feel with his degree in hand, knowing he was done — he did it.

It took Thomas, who’s a first-generation student, five years to get his bachelor’s degree. Now he’s looking to get his master’s and, eventually, a Ph.D.

“It was a journey, it was hard,” Thomas said. “But I know I’ll have more tough times ahead. This is just the beginning.”


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