Veronica Brown '17 Assistant News Editor
The class of 2015 perched on the edge of their seats at the Feb. 18 Rally Day ceremony as they waited for President McCartney to announce this year’s commencement speaker. After announcing the honorary degree recipients, President McCartney finally revealed that Juliet V. Garcia will deliver the keynote address.
“When Kathy announced who the speaker was, she started with ‘a Mexican-American woman’ and got cut off by the people cheering for the fact that we finally have a [woman of color] as a speaker,” said Tarra Murphy ’15.
Garcia holds the distinction of being the first Hispanic woman to serve as president of a U.S. college or university. Garcia led the Texas Southmost University, located in Brownsville, TX, from 1986 until 2014 and concurrently served as president of University of Texas at Brownsville from 1992 until 2014.
Brownsville lies on the U.S.-Mexico border, and as of the 2010 census, over 93 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino. The student body of UT- Brownsville is also 93 percent Hispanic and 91 percent first-generation college students.
Time magazine named Garcia one of “The 10 Best College Presidents.” She said of her work at UT- Brownsville, “We’re trying to send a very clear signal that the Latino human capital in this country simply needs access to the same opportunities that have been present for other people.”
Under her leadership, Texas Southmost College merged with UT-Brownsville, increasing opportunities for immigrant, low-income, and first-generation students. Garcia was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas and is a first generation college graduate herself.
Stacey Schmeidel, director of media relations for Smith, explained President McCartney chose Garcia because she “is an accomplished leader in higher education with a strong legacy around educational access, which is very important to Smith. She’s also a compelling speaker with a remarkable personal story.”
Garcia holds a BA in English and an MA in classical rhetoric and public address from the University of Houston as well as a PhD in communications & linguistics from University of Texas at Austin. She holds honorary degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Brown University, in addition to the one she will receive from Smith.
Garcia has won many awards for her work as a leader in education, including induction into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement in Education and the Hispanic Heritage Award. She was also selected as a member of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans and as a trustee of the Ford Foundation.
Garcia currently works as the executive director of the University of Texas Americas Institute. This newly created institute will be located in the Rio Grande Valley and “will position the UT System as a portal to the Americas,” according to the university’s press release.
Commencement 2015 will take place Sunday, May 17 at 10 a.m. The ceremony will be translated live into Spanish and Mandarin.