EDINBURG — As students from the Rio Grande Valley prepare to leave for college to attend the University of Texas for the upcoming semester, their family, UT Austin representatives and alumni celebrated them in an annual send-off celebration at the Edinburg Conference Center Wednesday evening.

“Hook ‘Em”, the University of Texas at Austin mascot cheers on the speaker during a send off to incoming freshman students at the Edinburg Conference Center Wednesday, Aug 7, 2019, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

The Texas Exes Hidalgo-Starr Chapter, which is a UT Austin Alumni Association, hosted the annual event that has been celebrated for over 25 years. Around 430 students from the Valley accepted admissions to the flagship university, chapter President Sharon Flores said. It also lets the incoming students let them know that there is a network of alumni to support them, she said.

The event began in 1993 as a way to bridge and build a relationship with UT-Austin and the region, with celebrations held in Edinburg and Brownsville, according to Monitor archives.

The students and families could meet and relay any concerns about their transition into college life with UT Austin officials and get advice from alumni to succeed.

Speakers made of current employees, some of them alumni, stressed making the best of a support network and their resources while advising students to know that there is a sense of belonging as UT Austin students.

Tony Garza, former ambassador to Mexico, and Miguel Wasielewski, executive director for admissions at UT Austin, were among the speakers for the night.

In an area with a strong Hispanic population and many first-generation college students, this event provides time to network and ease some concerns, from both family members and incoming freshman.

Alumni and incoming students meeting and forming relationships is one of the important aspects of the event, Wasielewski said.

“There’s this bigger connection that’s out there, it’s this connection to so many folks that have walked in the path that you have and have been successful and they are now a part of this greater community, Wasielewski said addressing the audience.

Garza’s educational journey mirrors those of many in the audience, as he is a Valley native and an alumnus of UT Austin. He relayed a personal experience about struggling with math and making the most out of resources available to succeed in college.

“Nobody has any more right to those resources than anybody in this room, because you belong at the University of Texas… that was one of the things that I really valued and treasured,” Garza said addressing students in the crowd.

The second part of the celebrations will be held in Brownsville on Thursday, encompassing students from the Lower Valley leaving home for college in the state capital.

Some attendees praised the event for making them feel more comfortable able transitioning into university life.

Alexandra Arredondo, 18, a graduate from Valley View High School, arrived to the celebration with her mother and grandmother.

“It really represents the whole community they have with each other, considering where we come from here in the Valley, it’s a very small community, and (we’re) going to this bigger community,” she said.

Arredondo said she wants to study speech pathology to eventually become a speech therapist. When she was younger she had a stutter and wanted to help children like her growing up with the difficulties that entails.

“It’s exciting to think I came from here, another person could come from here, and we could all let’s say change the world,” she said.

The need to incorporate a much smaller group into the wider university community is also echoed in the sentiment of alumni.

“We are a Longhorn family, we’ll stand with each other, we’ll help each other, we want each other to succeed, and when each of you succeed, the Longhorn nation is that much stronger,” Garza said addressing the crowd as he closed his speech.