July 13, 2023

Four siblings, driven by their parents’ lessons of faith, service and education, become alumni of the University of the Incarnate Word

Zarate Siblings“One day for every class and one day for the Bible.” This is how Francisca Zarate, mother of four UIW graduates, described the schedule she kept for her children during time off from school. While weeks away from the classroom during spring breaks and Christmas holidays were filled with fun and lots of love, she knew the importance of teaching them to prioritize education, service and faith. Those are the principles that have guided the Zarate family through years of challenges, triumphs and most recently, the celebration of the final Zarate child to graduate from the University of the Incarnate Word.

Zarate family in front of statueThe Zarate family’s UIW journey began in the fall of 2011. From the moment he graduated high school in the Rio Grande Valley, where the family is from, the eldest Zarate sibling, David Jr., knew that his calling was to serve patients in the field of optometry. UIW’s Vision Science program was specifically designed to help him achieve that goal and paved the way for him to later enroll in UIW's Rosenberg School of Optometry.

Affectionately called the “pathfinder” by his younger siblings, David Jr.’s two brothers, Dustin and Desse, followed in his footsteps, both studying Biology at UIW with the intention of entering the healthcare field – Dustin in dentistry, and Desse as a physicians assistant. The siblings’ time at UIW finally reached its conclusion when their little sister Daisy, the youngest of the family unit, graduated with a degree in marketing.

“Growing up, I've always seen my eldest brother as my role model,” Daisy said of David Jr. “He's the one who first came here, and he would always talk about UIW, mainly his relationships with his professors that he just adored, and I thought, if I went to a public school or bigger university, it wouldn't be the same.”

Over the years, as brother after brother chose to attend Incarnate Word, each sharing tales of their rich, life-changing experiences, making the same decision to study at UIW became the natural next step for Daisy, and one that she looked forward to.

Photo: Daisy, Dustin, Desse, and David Zarate

Four years later, the siblings are celebrating each other’s impressive accomplishments, with their parents, Francisca and David Sr., watching proudly. David Jr., known to his patients as Dr. Zarate now, moved back to the Rio Grande Valley to give back to his community. After treating patients as part of a larger clinic, he decided to “go full rebel” as he described it, by launching his own practice, the RGV Eye Institute. Dustin and Desse will soon begin treating patients of their own in their respective healthcare professions. As Daisy takes her first steps into the world beyond college, she hopes to follow in her brothers’ footsteps once more, putting her degree and education to use in the service of others.

Though each sibling has proven successful in their own right, you can’t talk to a single one
of them about their achievements without tears appearing in their eyes, as they point back to the two people they credit it all to – their mom and dad.

While many children grow up being told about the value of hard work and education, the Zarate siblings were able to witness it firsthand, as David Sr. continued his higher education in pursuit of a better life with more opportunities for his children. He is described by the four siblings as the parent who taught them the importance of discipline, and that any goal can be achieved if you’re not afraid to do the work.

“We come from [humble beginnings],” recalled Desse. “From living in a trailer, to building our own home with our own hands with our father. We couldn’t afford to have people build it, so we did it … our dad not only said, ‘Hey, you’re going to do something and you’re going to finish it,’ but he was an example of it the whole time.”

“We witnessed the quality of life he was able to give to us with each milestone of his education, from being a teacher's aide, to being a teacher, then to earning the administrative position that he was eventually in,” Dustin added. “I think with each step, we were able to see how much he was willing to sacrifice and how much that impacted us.”

That impact is one that carried the siblings through challenging times as they pursued their goals. David Jr.’s move from home proved difficult, as he found himself longing for family and familiarity. But it was his father who gave him the strength to persevere.

“We come from the middle of nowhere, where there’s a lot of space, not from the city at all,” David Jr. explained. “I still remember, I think it was the first year, I said, ‘I want to go back … I don’t know if I want to be here.’ And my dad said, ‘You're not there just for you. You're there for your siblings as well.’ So, he's been very inspiring throughout the whole process.”

Daisy with parents

As for the question of whether to pursue higher education in the first place? Well, it was never actually a question with David Sr. leading the way.

“My father never said, ‘if’ you go to college. It was ‘when’ you go to college,” Daisy recalled with a smile.

If their father served as the four siblings’ steady example of strength and discipline, their mother Francisca was the glue that held them all together. As David Sr. studied and worked his way up the ladder, Francisca provided the stability at home that allowed her family the space and support they needed to thrive.

“One of the things that I credit my wife so much for is the fact that she was there to support them at home,” David Sr. said. “Since they were in grade school, she instilled in them a routine, a pattern of the importance of school, and coming home and preparing themselves … in elementary, she instilled a pattern that helped them all the way through college.”

“My mother is very compassionate and caring,” David Jr. added. “I always say she’s an angel.”

This angel had a charge, and one that she handled with the utmost care – to raise her children in a loving home so they could become the best possible versions of themselves – both in school and in their character. As frequently as she was in her children’s classrooms, asking their teachers to provide more challenging, thought-provoking work for them, she was reminding her children that their gifts from God were to be used in the service of others.

“Dios te dio todos tus talentos y todo lo que tienes,” she recalled telling them from the time they were children. “Entonces, ¿ves a un niño que se ha quedado atrás? Ayúdalo.”

(“God gave you all your talents and everything you have … So, if you see a child who has fallen behind? Help him.”)

Zarate siblings on campus

It was this lesson that inspired the siblings to devote their adult lives to service in their chosen career paths.

“I feel that the caring, compassionate factor of healthcare is missing, especially in areas where we're from,” explained David Jr. “So, I wanted to bring that element back to our community ... I think in all forms of healthcare, we need that empathy and that compassion.”

Above all, Francisca prayed for her family ceaselessly, a gift she silently bestowed upon them daily, perhaps even more frequently once they moved to San Antonio to attend UIW.

“When they came (to UIW), we cried and said, ‘God, it’s in your hands, esta en tus manos.’”

And it was. The Zarate parents soon realized that their beloved children, whom they nurtured, inspired, taught and prayed for, had found a new home where their family’s core values of faith, education and service, were upheld. Their faith was celebrated by professors and peers who prayed together. Their commitment to service was nurtured, as each sibling completed the necessary service hours to fulfill degree requirements and chose career paths that would allow them to continue helping others. And their love of education was set ablaze, with faculty who “accepted them with open arms,” took the time to get to know them and provided one-on-one time for discussing everything from class assignments, to internship opportunities, and even, as Daisy remembered, noticing when they started sporting a new hairstyle.

It was that individualized attention and the peace of knowing that their children wouldn’t be just another number at UIW that made the transition of each child leaving the home they built together a little bit easier.

“We got to know the campus and felt comfortable with the way that the University presented itself to taking care of our kids,” David Sr. remembered. “I feel safe with my kids being here at this University. That in itself for a parent is very important because it's not easy to be home and not know where your kid is at ... UIW is an outstanding university and they do take care of their students.”

Now that the Zarate family has completed their time at UIW, they’re looking forward to spending more time together and enjoying their hard-earned success, knowing they have fans and supporters in one another and in their University home. The four siblings enter their next chapter grateful for every educator, motivator, mentor and friend along the way, especially and most importantly, their devoted mother and father and all the lessons they passed on to them.

"Like I always told them,” Francisca said of one of their many lessons, perhaps this one the most vital. “Mijos - you just do your best, and God will do the rest.”

How right she was.