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UH Law Center recognizes first Hispanic graduate Bonilla '60 with Dean's Distinguished Award

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April 28, 2021 - Tony Bonilla, a 1960 alumnus of the University of Houston Law Center, and the school's first graduate of Hispanic descent, was presented with the Dean's Distinguished Award during a recent virtual event hosted by the Hispanic Law Alumni group and Latinx Student Association.

"We're very honored that Tony Bonilla is one of our alums and proud of his successful career," Dean Leonard M. Baynes said. "We wish we were able to recognize him in person."

Professor Emeritus Michael A. Olivas also announced a gift from him and his wife, Professor Emerita Dr. Augustina Reyes of the UH College of Education, to dedicate a space named for Bonilla in The John M. O'Quinn Law Building.

"When the new building is open, we want to make sure you're represented," Olivas said. "There's no better person I can think of in all the many years I've worked with elected officials as well as people who have provided a service."

"It's so important for our students of diverse backgrounds to be able to see representation," added Baynes. "Diversity and inclusion is part of the Law Center's mission, and we've been very lucky that we've had Black, Latinx, Asian and women donors who have all contributed to the building. Having something named after our first Hispanic graduate is really important."

Bonilla is the president of Bonilla & Chapa, P.C., a personal injury firm with five offices across Texas. He previously served as a member of the Texas Coordinating Board of Higher Education, the Governor's Select Committee on Public Education and as a member of the Texas Constitutional Revision Commission. 

Long a proponent of public education, Bonilla played a role in the creation of the LULAC Education Service Centers and served as National Chairman of the Board. He is past National President of LULAC, past State Chair of LULAC and has served LULAC and other Hispanic organizations in leadership roles.

He reflected on his educational background and career during a conversation with Baynes. He discussed his childhood, and how his parents, who emigrated from Mexico, emphasized the opportunities that could be afforded to him with an education.

After completing his undergraduate education at Baylor University, Bonilla pursued a J.D. at the Law Center.

“I think because of the hardships my parents experienced, they realized how important education was,” Bonilla said.

Bonilla advised students to focus on learning the fundamentals of law, and to use their law degree to build a better world.

“Think in terms of trying to make a better society,” Bonilla said. “Your law degree opens many doors that will enable you to do really just about anything you want to do whether it’s government, education or trial work. But in the process, try to do things that will make life better for those who will follow you.”

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