‘A&M Has Given Me So Much’: May 2022 Graduates Share Their Stories
More than 11,200 degrees are being awarded by Texas A&M University over 15 ceremonies this month alone.
Following are the stories of six of these Aggies.
When it came time to take graduation photos, Margaret Teague turned to her first graders for wardrobe assistance. Presenting them with colored markers, she asked the kids to add some creative flair to the bottom half of the white dress she planned to wear.
Teague, who is graduating with a master’s degree in education, is thrilled with the final result. Her students embellished the dress with a rainbow of doodles. Along the rainbows, flowers and scribbles of Ms. Teague’s name, there’s a drawing of the sign for “I love you” in American Sign Language.
As a deaf education teacher in the Plano Independent School District, Teague said she hopes to use her graduate degree to help improve the lives of her current and future deaf students. Teague, who is also deaf, hopes to eventually work as a reading specialist for the deaf.
“Growing up, there were good deaf educators who really influenced me, and I just want to be a good role model for deaf students,” she said. “A lot of my teachers were hearing, and I want to show my students that deaf people can do anything and set an example that they can achieve a higher level of education.”
Texas A&M was an easy choice for grad school – her parents and younger brother are Aggies. She’s also graduating 100 years after her great grandfather Arthur Dieterich, Class of 1922, who is a member of the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame.
Teague completed most of her coursework online, using interpreters and closed captioning for her Zoom meetings and classes. As the only deaf student in the program, the work was often challenging, she said, but her instructors were understanding and accommodating.
“The program gave opportunities for research on reading skills,” Teague said. “I want to figure out a better approach with reading and writing skills for deaf students.”
By the time deaf students graduate high school, she said, most of them read at only a fourth-grade level. Using her degree from A&M, this is something Teague aims to change.
“I’m very grateful for the education I received at Texas A&M, and I am always going to cherish my time at the school,” she said.
Not only have each of William Walford’s male relatives been part of the Corps of Cadets, he’s the 31st member of the family to attend Texas A&M. But the moment of his undergraduate career when “everything felt real” came when Walford pulled on his senior boots for the first time and marched into Kyle Field.
“In my family, we put our boots on display once we’re done with them,” said Walford, who graduated Thursday with a degree in forensic and investigative sciences. “I’m now part of this fraternity of Corps members in my family, and I have something I’ll be able to enshrine forever and remember that by.”
Texas A&M is inextricably linked with the Walford family.
“There’s a really rich history. It’s football 24/7, everything’s maroon in our house, and around the dinner table we talk about how the Aggies are doing and what I’m doing at A&M,” he said.
His father was commissioned into the U.S. Air Force upon graduating and went on to have a long career as a pilot. Walford said his family moved frequently around Europe due to his father’s military career, spending the most time in Germany, Italy and Belgium. He moved to College Station to attend Texas A&M after graduating from high school in Berlin.
“People say college is the best four years of your life, and I think that’s especially true for A&M,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any other place in the nation where you get such a warm welcome from day one.”
Walford has a desire to serve his country and improve others’ lives, which drew him to forensic science and law. On top of academics, the Corps and involvement in several student organizations, he interned at the district attorney’s offices in Dallas and Harris counties, as well as with a local juvenile defense attorney. Walford credits the sociology department and forensic and investigative sciences program with giving him access to these immersive courtroom experiences.
He starts law school this fall at The University of Texas at Austin, but it’s his time at Texas A&M that Walford believes will set him apart as he develops a career.
“Everyone knows an Aggie is going to be the hardest working person in the room and approach the work with a smile on their face,” he said.
As fate would have it, Alexia Hernandez will be earning her bachelor’s degree in international studies on her 22nd birthday, Friday.
“The weekend will be full of celebrations for both events,” she said, noting she has numerous family members coming in for the 4 p.m. ceremony at Reed Arena, including the only other Aggie in the family, her uncle, John Redfearn ’18. “He gave me my first tour of A&M and helped convince me to attend,” she said.
Attracted by the level of student involvement that Texas A&M supports, as well as “generous financial support of scholarship offers,” Hernandez, a native of Houston, chose A&M to pursue a degree that would help her secure work in areas related to politics and diplomacy. “I knew by choosing Texas A&M, I would be able to grow my leadership and career skills through getting involved in student organizations, while being able to afford a high-quality education.”
A sampling of that involvement: She served as president of the Hispanic Presidents’ Council and as a student senator. Hernandez is a Buck Weirus Spirit Award winner, an award which recognizes students for creating positive experiences throughout the Aggie community.
Hernandez said she’s excited to attend the Latinx graduation* ceremony on May 15 to celebrate her culture in a way that resonates with her family. Since A&M announced its federal designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution earlier this year, the ceremony “will be such a historic opportunity to celebrate the achievements of my community here in Aggieland.”
With her time at Texas A&M drawing to a close, biomedical sciences major Brianna Bazan is packing up everything from her apartment, hanging out with friends one last time and welcoming family members who have come to watch her cross the graduation stage on Saturday.
When Bazan first came to College Station from the small town of Rio Grande City four years ago, she found the transition to college life somewhat challenging: All of a sudden, she had to find her away around a new town, tackle a tough course load and get to know the many new faces around campus.
Bazan, who uses a wheelchair, said she also had to learn to be a self-advocate. Back home, all of Bazan’s teachers knew her and already understood what accommodations she required, so she didn’t have to worry too much about accessibility issues.
“When I came over here, I was seven hours away from home and I had never really thought about issues like that,” Bazan said. “My first couple years, I had to learn how to ask for accommodated seating or how to register with Disability Resources. I had to learn how to get around campus on my own for the first time.”
Eventually, Bazan joined the team at Disability Resources as a student worker, becoming a proud advocate for fellow students with all types of disabilities.
“I never thought about PowerPoints not being accessible, or videos needing captioning for students who are deaf, so it’s really opened my eyes on accessibility in general,” said Bazan, who has also played an active role in the Aggie Adaptive Sports student organization.
Bazan’s dream is to become a physician’s assistant and one day work for Shriners Hospital in Chicago, where she was first inspired to go into medicine.
“When I started going and seeing a specialist over there, that’s the first time that I saw a therapist with prosthetic limbs, and I saw a nurse in a wheelchair and a physician in a wheelchair too,” Bazan said.
It motivated her to set that same example for others, ultimately aiming to work with children in the field of rehabilitation and physical medicine.
“I’m definitely going to take what I’ve learned from the office — working with different disabilities, communicating with different individuals, working with different severities — into that field,” Bazan said.
Before she even walked the stage at Reed Arena, Anna Fedewa had put her degree to work, beginning a new job remotely on May 2 as the manager of public policy for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) in Washington, D.C.
Fedewa first connected with the NDSS through the Texas A&M Public Policy Internship Program (PPIP) during her sophomore year, serving as their public policy intern. After her internship, she was hired part-time as an education program associate. “I’ve been working for them remotely since my junior year and was so honored to have been offered a full-time position.”
The Katy, Texas, native received a graduate certificate in nonprofit management Thursday from the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Friday she’ll receive a Bachelor of Science in early childhood-12 special education with a minor in psychology from the College of Education & Human Development.
She said her new job will allow her to connect members of the community to public policy through grassroots initiatives. She said she’s excited to be relocating to D.C. next month.
Fedewa is the fourth Aggie in her family – her mom, Norma Fedewa ’93, aunt Patricia Navarro ’91, and cousin Alec Navarro ’20 all graduated from Texas A&M.
She said recent relocations of family members to out of state have made Friday’s graduation a trek for some.
“My entire life, my family has all lived in Katy, only an hour away from College Station,” she said. “Within the last year though, my parents have moved to Tulsa, Okla., for my dad’s job and my sister moved to Fayetteville, Ark., to attend the University of Arkansas. It’s been moving to see my family work extra hard to get to see me graduate. My family’s support means the world to me, and I am so grateful that they are so willing to do anything to see me succeed.”
Standing on Kyle Field during halftime last fall was a defining moment of Caitlin Garcia’s experience at Texas A&M.
In her hometown of Thorndale – northeast of Austin and home to around 1,300 residents – Garcia graduated from high school with about 50 others. About a third of her graduating class went on to attend a four-year university, she estimates. So when Garcia stepped onto the field as part of a Texas A&M Foundation presentation, it was a “full circle” moment.
“To be standing on the field while students from my high school and middle school were sitting in the stands for a field trip, I could be an actual representation that not only can you attend a four-year university, you can also get involved and make college whatever you want it to be,” Garcia said.
She graduates Friday with a communications degree and a consulting job lined up in Houston. As a first-generation college student, these milestones are especially rewarding – like when her parents presented her Aggie Ring.
“My parents worked extremely hard to support their kids in any way possible, but one thing they couldn’t really offer us was experiential wisdom on how to navigate college,” she said. “I had to be really active in finding and pursuing opportunities and getting involved.”
Getting involved with organizations is what made A&M’s large campus of more than 70,000 students feel “a whole lot smaller,” Garcia said. It’s her biggest piece of parting wisdom for Aggies: “Get plugged in as soon as you can.”
Before being crowned Miss Teen of America in November 2018, she watched A&M’s seven-overtime win against LSU on her phone while backstage at the pageant. Most of Garcia’s free time as a freshman went toward making presentations and guest appearances.
Once she passed on her title the next year, Garcia focused on engaging with the campus community. She’s a member of the Chi Omega sorority, worked with the MSC Abbott Family Leadership Conference and served as a Maroon Coat for the Texas A&M Foundation. As a Maroon Coat, Garcia gave campus tours to prospective students and donors, greeted people at events and performed other duties in her role as a student ambassador. This year she was the organization’s president.
“A&M has given me so much whether that be financially or scholastically, and most importantly has given me friendships with people who have a great value system,” Garcia said. “It’s all because of Texas A&M, and I’m looking forward to being able to give back.”
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