Texas A&M, Texas Legislature Recognize First Class Of Aggie ACHIEVE Graduates
A milestone as monumental as graduation can leave many students at a loss for words. But as Thomas Matthew Carrizal prepared to walk the commencement stage at Texas A&M University on May 11, he knew exactly what to say.
“This is history in the making right here,” Carrizal remarked, flanked by his classmates Jose Miguel Gonzalez, Courtney Elizabeth Osburn and Alexis Celeste Villarreal. The four proud Aggies are the first to graduate from the School of Education and Human Development’s Aggie ACHIEVE, a comprehensive transition program offering postsecondary education and vocational training for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The first of its kind in Texas, the program is designed to give its students a complete college experience; participants experience on- and off-campus living, attend classes, participate in extracurriculars and Aggie traditions, and pursue internship opportunities.
“Our Aggie ACHIEVE students are really engaged in a fully inclusive learning experience,” said Dr. Jeffrey Liew, professor and interim head of the Department of Educational Psychology, where Aggie ACHIEVE is housed. “They’re learning academic as well as social and life skills, which are very important for all of our students to have when they graduate and go out into the world.”
Those who complete all four years receive a Certificate of Interdisciplinary Studies, along with a lifetime of memories from their time in Aggieland. For Carrizal, saying goodbye to Texas A&M and his classmates is bittersweet. Over the years, they’ve become a close-knit group, hanging out after class, attending sporting events and supporting each other through the many ups and downs of college life.
Still, Carrizal said he’s excited for the many opportunities that lie ahead. Next month, he’ll attend FUTURE NOW, an annual conference in New York City for students hoping to join the entertainment industry.
“Aggie ACHIEVE taught me about independence, learning to do things on your own, got me on the right path to where I am right now,” he said. “It’s been such a ride, and I’m just blessed to have these amazing people with me. Even though we may go our separate ways, I’ll still hold them down in my heart very deeply.”
For Carrizal’s parents — native Houstonians — it’s been a joy watching their son take advantage of everything Texas A&M has to offer. His mother, Deborah Carrizal, said she hopes the success of this first graduating class will encourage other parents to give the program a chance.
“It’s definitely something to consider — it’s scary at first to think of them being away from home, but this program has really done so much for all the students,” she said. “My son has matured, he’s become more articulate, very opinionated, very confident in himself and how he presents himself. And he’s been opened up to a lot more opportunities.”
A few days after graduation, Carrizal and his classmates were off to Austin, where they visited the State Capitol and were present for the ceremonial signing of Texas House Bill 446, which eliminates the use of outdated and offensive terminology across a number of statutes pertaining to intellectual disabilities.
The House recently passed a resolution authored by local State Reps. Kyle Kacal and John Raney honoring this first class of Aggie ACHIEVE graduates and recognizing the accomplishments of the program and its students.
“The four members of the inaugural cohort of Aggie ACHIEVE have demonstrated hard work, dedication, and perseverance on their way to completing the program,” the resolution reads, “and they are indeed deserving of special recognition for this accomplishment as they embark on the next exciting chapter of their lives.”
Additional information on the Aggie ACHIEVE program, including eligibility requirements, is available at aggieachieve.tamu.edu.