Why I Give: Carlos Zaffirini Jr.

Carlos Zaffirini Jr., BBA ’03, JD ’06, Life Member, recently endowed a Texas Exes scholarship in honor of his mother, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, BS ’67, MA ’70, PhD ’78, Life Member, Distinguished Alumna. In a post that first appeared on his LinkedIn page, Carlos tells his family’s story and shares why he chose to give back.


In so many ways, my mother’s story is the story of South Texas: Judy Pappas grew up in Laredo without even thinking of going to college. When she was a high school senior, her boyfriend, who earlier had motivated her to become an A student, encouraged her to go to college. Her parents couldn’t afford to pay for her new dream of a first-class higher education, but her father said that if she paid her way, she could go wherever she wanted. The 17-year-old enrolled in summer classes at Laredo Junior College and secured financial aid and part-time jobs to enroll at the University of Houston as a freshman.

At 18 she dropped out and married her 21-year-old boyfriend two days after he secured his degree from Tulane University. The totally self-supporting newlyweds hoped to enroll at the University of Texas at Austin, but faced severe financial limitations. One day they ran into their state representative, the late Honore Ligarde, and told him about their situation. With one telephone call he secured a National Defense Student Loan for her, enabling both of them to enroll at UT in the fall. My father, Carlos Zaffirini Sr., earned his law degree there, and my mother, now Senator Judith Zaffirini, earned her BS, MA, and PhD there—each with a 3.9 GPA, while married and holding as many as three part-time jobs. At one point she was a full-time doctoral student in Austin while working full-time in Laredo, where my father began his law practice.

The economic challenges they faced and the burdens they endured in pursuing their degrees are the foundation from which my mother became a champion for higher education opportunities for all Texans, especially her constituents. With this goal at the top of her legislative agenda, she served as chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee and as co-chair and co-vice chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence, and Transparency. She has passed and sponsored important legislation and secured and sought increased funding for colleges and universities statewide, particularly through tuition revenue bonds and financial aid. Unquestionably, she is higher education’s best friend in the Texas Legislature.

Having grown up as a witness to her passion and zeal for ensuring her constituents enjoy equal opportunities for excellence in higher education, I embraced her dream: first, by completed a business degree and law degree at UT-Austin before starting my own business, and, second, by helping South Texans realize their goals of completing degrees at first-class institutions. That is why I worked with the Texas Exes to establish the Senator Judith Zaffirini Scholarship with an initial endowment of $100,000 at UT-Austin and a pledge to increase it. A similar endowed scholarship will be announced soon at the Baylor College of Medicine, and both will benefit low-income South Texas students. The Beaumont Foundation also endowed a $100,000 scholarship at Texas A&M International University in Laredo in the name of Senator Judith and Carlos Zaffirini Sr.

Why the commitment? As a family we are committed to inspiring and empowering South Texas students to pursue their higher education and to ensure a better future for themselves, their families, our communities, and our state. We realize that the key to building the poorest region of our state is access to affordable and excellent higher education. My mother’s story is a constant reminder of how one person can be motivated, encouraged, and assisted in the pursuit of dreaming high—and then turn around and make an even greater difference for countless Texans who will reap the benefits of her leadership in the Texas Senate. To honor her service and to further her goals of opening doors for the next generation, I am proud to endow the Senator Judith Zaffirini Scholarships for South Texas students. My hope is that recipients, in turn, will prepare themselves eventually to do even more to blaze trails for the generations that will follow them.

Photo by Matt Valentine.

One Comment

  1. Jessica says:

    Wow. That is awesome. I just want to say thank you!

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