Texas Exes celebrate fall 2017 graduates

John Melendez

As their time at UT draws to a close, fall 2017 graduates took shelter from the chilly Friday night weather in the warm, lively atmosphere of their graduation party.

The Great Texas Exit, held at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, is a graduation celebration hosted by Texas Exes twice a year, after each semester. Friends and family gathered to drink champagne, hot chocolate and take photos. It is a tradition that has been held for decades, said Kim Gundersen, Texas Exes associate executive director.

Gundersen said the winter celebration is smaller than the one in May, but that’s what makes it all the more special.

“One of the great things about working for the Texas Exes is getting to see this kind of thing,” Gundersen said. “We will cry at some point tonight watching this special moment with these families just because it’s very unique, and I think we are very privileged to be a part of celebrating something so important.”

The event is meant to celebrate every student’s accomplishments and recruit lifetime membership into the Texas Exes. Parents and students alike can become a part of the 85,000 lifetime members who have access to online UT libraries, career coaching and networking opportunities, among other things, Gundersen said.

Advertising graduate Ally Thonsgaard knew she would be a Longhorn since she was little. Her father, mother and older sister are lifetime members of the Texas Exes.

One of the best pieces of advice Thonsgaard said she has to give is to not choose stability over your passions.

“I thought I wanted to do some other types of majors and I discovered advertising, and I actually really enjoyed it,” Thonsgaard said. “Don’t do something just because you think you have to do it.”

Nutrition graduate Holly Swaldi attended the event because the College of Natural Sciences did not have its own convocation, but she still wanted to celebrate. Graduation means a major change in lifestyle for Swaldi, who has a one-way ticket to Australia to learn what she really wants out of life.

Swaldi said her time at UT taught her that students should focus more on forming meaningful connections and self-improvement.

“I think we focus on our ‘resume selves’ a lot,” Swaldi said. “I think we all know what matters more in the end … things like kindness, our capacity to love and forgive.”

Swaldi said graduation is not a sad time for her, but the beginning of something greater.

“I feel like I’ve really sucked the marrow out of college,” Swaldi said. “I’m leaving a much better version of myself, but there’s so much more I have to work on and learn so this only the beginning.”