About 7,500 students will graduate from The University of Texas at Austin at the 128th spring commencement this Saturday, May 21. Each graduate has a unique story. To celebrate the Class of 2011, we're highlighting 10 stories, profiling students who have overcome obstacles, discovered new dimensions and doggedly pursued their academic goals.
When Omar Ochoa learned last spring he'd been selected editor in chief of the Texas Law Review (TLR), he took a deep breath and reflected on the opportunity.
"I thought of everyone who had ever been in TLR and all the years it's been in existence. To be trusted to lead the organization was an honor, but also a huge responsibility," said the 27-year-old graduating School of Law student with a remarkable record of academic achievement and service at The University of Texas at Austin.
Ochoa became the first Latino selected to lead the nationally recognized, 89-year-old legal journal, which is run entirely by students and publishes legal scholarship produced by professors, judges and practitioners.
"There are plenty of challenges in an organization as large as TLR, from daily operations to diverse personalities to getting all seven of our issues published on time," said Ochoa.
Ochoa felt confident he could rely on the skills he'd developed in 2005-06 as the university's first Latino to serve as student body president.
"That experience led me to believe I could manage a complex organization and do it well," said Ochoa, who led successful efforts to add a student member to every Texas public university's Board of Regents and create a new student activity center on campus, which opened this spring.
A native of Edinburg, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, Ochoa cites his parents' story of success as his inspiration. Both grew up as migrant farm workers but became successful professionals and community leaders. Ochoa's father served as mayor of Edinburg.
With this in mind, leading the Law Review wasn't enough. Ochoa combined his passion for the law and service for others. During law school, he won a writing competition, worked as a research assistant, interned at the Texas Supreme Court and was published in two law journals. But he also was the education chair for the Chicano/Hispanic Law Students Association, a teaching assistant for a legal writing class and a mentor in the university's Intellectual Entrepreneurship program. This spring, he was the abbot (president) of the university's Friar Society, the oldest and most prestigious honor society on campus.
"Omar does a remarkable number of things and does them all remarkably well," said Law School Dean Lawrence Sager, who taught Ochoa in a constitutional law seminar this semester. "He is intelligent, mature and diplomatic. He is a wonderful standard-bearer for the UT Law School."
In April, the university recognized Ochoa and two other law students by lighting the Tower orange with a number one, in honor of winning the Uvaldo Herrera National Moot Court championship and the award for best respondent's brief.
It was the perfect ending for the law review editor from the Valley who says he owes so much to the university. Justice David Medina, who was present at the Tower lighting, gave his former intern at the Texas Supreme Court high praise and summed up the feeling of many: "He's a rising star."