Small Start for a Big University
As the university reaches 100,000 graduates, we take a look at the first class to earn their UTSA diplomas at the inaugural commencement ceremony Aug. 18, 1974
After Gaston Kent received his diploma, his wife gave him a congratulatory kiss. The graduation signaled a new start for the couple.
“It felt really good because I was just getting out of the Air Force and headed to California for a new job,” Kent said in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “It was a very exciting time.”
It was Aug. 18, 1974. And the Kents’ excitement was shared not only by the other graduates and their families, but also by all who had worked to bring a state-funded university to San Antonio.
On that afternoon, Kent was one of 82 students to become the first graduates of UTSA. That commencement, which took place nearly 40 years ago, stands in stark contrast to recent ceremonies that pack the Alamodome over the course of a weekend.
Even though the campus hadn’t been completed and classes were held at the Koger Center, a business park off Loop 410, that first graduation had a celebratory feeling above and beyond the usual pomp and circumstance.
The university’s president, Peter T. Flawn, signed the first diploma as it rested on the back of Texas State Representative Frank Lombardino, a nod to the signing of the bill that created the school, according to UTSA archives.
The diploma was then awarded to Susan Bolado, who was receiving her M.B.A. after graduating in 1973 from Texas State University, then Southwest Texas State University.
An hour later, the ceremony ended. A light breeze kept the August sun from being too hot as everyone mingled and mariachis performed at the reception.
Yvonne Katz, M.A. in education administration, recalls fondly nearly all of her time at the university, including first registering with her lead professor, Wayne Laughery.
“He had two chairs in the room,” she said. “And a telephone sat on one and he sat in the other. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I gotten myself into?’”
What she got was a professor who stood behind her goal of one day becoming a school principal, something that in the 1970s was not that common for a woman.
“He said, ‘We’ll work up a plan, and you’ll become one,’” Katz added.
Katz did just that, and eventually worked her way to becoming a superintendent, as well. As a UTSA graduate who was there from the beginning, she knew that the school would need a strong alumni association to grow into what everyone hoped it would. So she and several students launched the association that is now housed in an office named in her honor.
In 2012, Katz committed $1 million to create an endowed alumni fund.
Not all of the first UTSA graduates attended the ceremony. Mia Enquist was one of those who opted out of the event. Having a master’s degree in bilingual education was enough to move her forward on her road to teaching languages, she said. After UTSA, she went on to the University of Texas at Austin to earn her doctorate in languages.
As a student, Enquist didn’t get to mingle much, given her harried schedule as a wife, mom and teacher.
“I was tired all the time,” Enquist said, chuckling. “We had three children, and I was commuting from Seguin to San Antonio, so my plate was full.”
The family eventually moved to Washington, D.C., where Enquist, then in her 50s, took a detour from languages to finance, starting her own business. That business closed in fall 2012, about two years after the death of her husband, Rev. Canon Dr. Roy J. Enquist. The two were married for 57 years.
Now 85, Enquist is back to languages—Latin, Greek, French, German and Spanish. She currently is teaching English as a second language classes at the Washington National Cathedral, which is within walking distance of her home and where her husband was installed as canon in 2000.
Gaston Kent’s new start at the Northrup Grumman Corp. in 1974 turned into a nearly 40-year career. He is now president and chief executive officer of the John Tracy Clinic, a nonprofit agency that helps families of infants and toddlers who have hearing loss. The agency serves about 25,000 families each year, according to its website.
He may not have put down roots in San Antonio, but Kent still feels a connection to his alma mater.
“Being at the forefront, it felt pretty good,” Kent said. “There weren’t that many in the M.B.A. class. We learned to work together as a fairly small group, and I remember thinking, I’m really lucky, because if I had gone to a really big school it would not have felt quite the same.”