And she likely would have stayed in that small world had it not been for one person at Bee County College — what is now known as Coastal Bend College.
Patricia A. Patel, guest speaker at Friday’s college commencement ceremony, said that she knew full well that most graduates don’t remember the words spoken during their graduation ceremonies — she hoped that this would be different.
“It’s a story that begins right here at Coastal Bend College,” she said. Her story is one that spans eight American cities and more than 30 foreign counties.
“Like most of you, I was raised in South Texas — Pawnee, Texas, population 250.
She went to school in Three Rivers, was voted most likely to succeed, named class valedictorian and earned enough scholarships to carry her through two degrees.
“As far as everyone was concerned, I had a bright future ahead of me,” she said.
But she was naive about the world. She was timid. She was afraid of change.
She was primarily raised by an elderly grandfather in a small town. She viewed the world with a narrow vision of reality.
When she stepped onto the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, she had entered what would best described as a foreign land. This was a place of tattoos, body piercings and viewpoints drastically different from her own.
“It was overwhelming to say the least,” she said. “Needless to say, by the end of the day, I had managed to withdraw myself from classes and found myself back in the comfort of my grandfather’s home.”
She was working as a teller at George West’s First National Bank when she received a call from Glynis Strause, a former community college dean who now works as a community relations adviser for ConocoPhillips.
“No one had spoken to me about the possibility of going to community college,” she said. “BCC had never been on my radar.”
Patel was nervous about enrolling.
“I know now that my biggest fear was running into the very same people I had spent the past four years with,” she said. “What would they think? What would they say about me?”
But after some strong words from Strause, she enrolled.
“It is amazing what can happen when we allow ourselves to take risks,” she said. “The most difficult lesson I have learned thus far is to not let your fears alter your dreams.”
She continued her education, ultimately earning her degree from the University of Texas.
Patel has worked with institutions of higher learning such as Lansing Community College and the School of Rural Public Health at The Texas A&M University System Health Science Center. She has helped raise awareness and increase services for vulnerable populations through her professional appointments with nonprofit organizations like the Mid-Michigan Chapter of the American Red Cross and Results Initiative.
Most recently, Patricia is the co-founder of Impower, a nonprofit organization aiming to help individuals strengthen themselves and address challenges in their communities.
That once timid girl now seeks new challenges.
“My decisions have landed me on the steps of the Capitol building in debates and protests in any number of causes I feel strongly about,” she said.
She called on these graduates to never let themselves become stagnant.
“Challenge yourself and be open to the unknown,” she said. “Do not be afraid to fail. There is always a worthy lesson in any endeavor we pursue.
“Life is fleeting. Right now is the moment for you to pursue your passion. Don’t let it pass you by.”
She added that as they work to better themselves, they also must work to make the lives of others better.
“Wherever your journey may take you, I implore you — never lose your sense of humanity.
“Be a humanitarian, a philanthropist and a volunteer.
“Help others simply for the sake of uplifting another individual.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.