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Commencement Close-Up: UTSA alumnus says 'don't let anything stop you'
(May 9, 2011)--For years, Juan Livas watched as domestic workers waited patiently for the city bus in Laredo.
"I wondered how much they made, what they spent their money on, and whether or not they made enough to adequately support their families," said Livas.
Those questions led to Juan's thesis titled "The Utilization of Earnings," and his master's degree in sociology awarded Thursday, May 5 during the College of Liberal and Fine Arts commencement ceremony.
"Going far in my education is something I do because of my Mom," he said. "She made a lot of sacrifices for me over the years. She told me this week how very proud she is of me defending my thesis and now graduating with my master's. That really means a lot to me."
Livas recalls the sacrifices and the constant moves his family made in Laredo during the first 15 years of his life -- moves required just to make ends meet. "We would find a place to live, settle in and then the rent would go up. We would find a new place and eventually the same thing would happen," he said. "It was difficult."
When Livas was 19, the family faced another difficult time -- the death of his father.
"He was an influence in my education, and when he passed away, I became really motivated to keep going. My Mom took on everything. I had to get my education to give back to her."
Livas worked 35-40 hours a week, often juggling two jobs, while carrying a full course load as an undergraduate and graduate student. He received his bachelor's degree in sociology from Texas A & M International University in Laredo and now that he has his master's, he said there is no stopping.
"Of course I'm like any graduate; I would like to get a full-time job. But I would also like to take a few years off from school then go back for my Ph.D.," he said with enthusiasm.
Livas plans to continue his research in Mexican American studies and immigration, but until then, he is basking in his accomplishment as the first in his family to receive a master's degree.
Harriett Romo, UTSA professor of sociology, and Raquel Marquez, UTSA associate professor and department chair of sociology, supervised Livas' thesis. He considers both as his mentors.
"I have seen Juan persevere in order to complete his degree. Even after his personal circumstances forced him to return to Laredo, he continued to collect data and to write his thesis," said Marquez. "It's been very rewarding to see Juan mature in his writing and research skills. Students he may teach in the future will flourish under his supervision, because the Juan that I have come to know will place the same level of commitment toward his students as he did to his own graduate experience."
Romo said Livas' experience, working full time while going to school, is a familiar one at the university.
"Juan and the other students like him at UTSA are very motivated to succeed in higher education and to give back to their communities," Romo said. "He will be an outstanding role model for young students in his community of Laredo and he will do a great job as a future college teacher and researcher," she added, pleased with the accomplishment of her student.
Livas is already seeing a difference. He said that many of his friends are now thinking about not only getting a bachelor's degree but completing a master's program.
"In life, you will have positive and negative experiences but it's up to you to learn from them, grow because of them and become a better person," Livas said. "Don't let anything stop you.