Community Column: Outstanding former students shine on the South Side

January 22, 2019

Dr. Robert Garza

In the 1970s and 1980s, community leaders championed for higher education in South San Antonio.

For more than 30 years, Palo Alto College has served more than 150,000 students who have put their faith in us to help them achieve their educational and career goals.

Our current and former students are a testament to what we do each day. Many have become successful entrepreneurs, community leaders, teachers, artists, public servants, scientists, authors and more.

Since 2013, Palo Alto College has honored one former student annually during our spring commencement ceremony. Chosen from a pool of recommendations submitted by the community, honorees have demonstrated a high-level of professional achievement, community service, and continued support of education and the mission of Palo Alto College.

Previous recipients include poet and author Laurie Ann Guerrero, who was selected as the 2014 recipient of the Palo Alto College Outstanding Former Student award.

Earlier that year, Guerrero was appointed the 2014 poet laureate of San Antonio, and during her term she partnered with us to create the official San Antonio Poetry Archive at Palo Alto College, which serves as a repository of written and audiovisual materials and artifacts. This repository tells the stories of local poets and the history of San Antonio's diverse literary voice.

Our 2016 Outstanding Former Student, District 4 Councilman Rey SaldaƱa, has been a longtime champion of Palo Alto College. Through the Learn-to-Swim program, he is teaching lifesaving skills to our youngest community members.
In collaboration with key partners, the Learn-To-Swim program has provided free swim lessons to more than 4,000 second-grade students in South San Antonio ISD and Southwest ISD since the program started in fall 2016.

Palo Alto College's 2018 Outstanding Former Student is Steven Alaniz, who serves as the chief executive officer for Momentum Physical Therapy.

Alaniz was the first former student to support us when we announced our new health care administration program by guaranteeing interviews to any student who completes the two-year program.

Being able to provide these students with the hope of securing a job upon graduation is exactly what our community needs.

Many of our graduates have gone off to do amazing things, and we are fortunate to be able to recognize a few during our annual commencement ceremony to serve as an inspiration for our newest graduates.

If you know of a former student who exemplifies the mission of Palo Alto College, consider sharing his or her story with us. The nomination form for the 2019 Outstanding Former Student is available online at
Nominations are due Feb. 8. For more information, contact Leticia Inocencio, alumni and scholarships coordinator, at 210-486-3117.

Every one of us can play a role in changing the future of our community. By sharing success stories of our former students, we can inspire greatness in our children to become the future leaders of our beloved South Side community.

This column by Dr. Robert Garza, president of Palo Alto College, was originally published in the San Antonio Express-News' Southside Reporter and on