The battle over the mascot for the new UT-Rio Grande Valley campus—which is less of a “new campus” and more of a smooshing together of the existing UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American campuses in Brownsville and Edinburg, respectively—was fought on many fronts, and was extremely heated. Sports talk radio hosts in Houston got involved; city governments across the Valley passed resolutions in favor of different mascot names and condemning one another for their resolutions; “Bucky,” a bronco mascot that may not have even meant all that much to UT-Pan Am students and alumni until he was threatened, suddenly became a rallying point for Upper Valley pride. In the Lower Valley, meanwhile, forces rallied less to preserve any particular part of their own mascot heritage—rather, they simply sought to ensure that the new school would forge ahead with a new identity.

Ultimately, the forces who sought to save Bucky failed, and the new mascot was declared: Enter the Vaquero, a name that received a mere 14 percent of the popular support in a school-sponsored poll to determine what fuzzy animal would represent UTRGV. 

What’s past is prologue, and the Rio Grande Valley faces forward. However, before the inaugural seasons of UTRGV Vaqueros athletics begins this fall, Bucky got sent off with one last ride—as a UTPA graduate. 

After nearly 90 years celebrating the unbroken horse as a mascot, Bucky the Bronc will finally graduate from the University of Texas – Pan American today.

“I’ve congratulated over 81,000 graduates and I’m really excited to be a graduate, too,” Bucky said in an email. “I’m very excited for this next chapter in the university’s history and I am so proud to have brought spirit to the campus for the past 88 years.

Bucky will receive an honorary degree in school spirit during the 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. ceremonies at the McAllen Convention Center.

During the debate over the naming of UTRGV, one of the points made by Edinburg city councillor J.R. Betancourt was that UTPA graduates were concerned that the name change might devalue the degrees they’d earned. That anxiety later rolled into the laments for Bucky, and helped explain why so many in the Upper Valley were expressing such devotion to a mascot that had previously carried little cultural cachet. 

However, little concern about the relative value of a UTPA degree appears to have been expressed in the wake of the fact that the school gave one to an anthropomorphized horse. 

The departure of Bucky from UTPA is meaningful, and the entire debate over the mascot revealed some surprisingly deep emotional scars in the Valley. So if the Bucky loyalists needed to be assured that the Bronc, as he pursues his future (presumably in a storage closet somewhere), will be doing so armed with some credentials, we can only hope that it helps the community heal. In the meantime, this is probably the last we’ll hear of Bucky the Bronc. 

(photo credit: Dutch Cowgill)