88-Year-Old Grandfather and 23-Year-Old Granddaughter Graduate Same University, Same Day
Have you ever heard of a unique graduation event where a grandfather and granddaughter graduate on the same day? The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) will always remember this extraordinary event that happened in December 2021. Rene Neira, an 88-year-old grandfather, graduated the same day as his granddaughter, 23-year-old Melanie Salazar! While Neira received a degree of recognition in economics, Salazar graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in communications. The school celebrated this unique achievement with a tweet saying, “Family Goals!” The happiness of the occasion was evident in the photo of the two graduates beaming with pride.
Double graduates from the same family
It’s quite unlikely for a family to plan such a memorable family affair where a grandfather and granddaughter graduate the same day from the same university! The entire family was overwhelmed at the response they received during this special event, where Rene Neira achieved his long-cherished dream of earning a degree.
“You are never too old to learn something new, or too young to learn too much.” – Suzy Kassem’s quote perfectly epitomizes Rene Neira’s motivation to pursue his long and trying journey to graduation. His journey wasn’t an easy one by any means, as he had to keep his motivation intact for nearly seven decades!
The extraordinary graduation journey of Rene Neira
One of Neira’s life goals was to earn a degree. Neira’s dream to become a graduate started in the 1950s. Around that time, he fell in love, got married, and started a family. He took classes on and off, but his family and social responsibilities took over his dreams. He postponed his education to build a banking career and support his family.
In the 1960s, Neira was a social activist in his own right. He was passionate about urban and economic development. Also, he participated in many rallies and marches and got involved in activities with the local government. Furthermore, he strongly advocated civic engagement. All these activities seeded his aspiration to earn a degree in economics.
In 2016, when Salazar finished high school and enrolled for an associate degree at Palo Alto College, Neira decided to continue his education along with her at the age of 82! Salazar proudly posted a picture of the two of them starting their college journey together, and the post went viral.
In 2017, Neira enrolled for a degree in economics at UTSA, where his granddaughter chose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in communications. Though they never shared any class, they used to carpool and study together. They spent quality time in the cafeteria, where Salazar would help her grandpa navigate the school’s website for his classes. However, the pandemic struck, which only made it more difficult for Neira to pursue his goal as his health started deteriorating.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Neira suffered a minor stroke and had to take a leave of absence. Once again, Neira’s dream was on the verge of getting derailed. He had difficulty adjusting to remote classes and navigating courses online. Added to this, his health started falling further due to his ailments.
Seeing his plight and earnest effort to earn his degree during his lifetime, Neira’s family requested UTSA grant a degree of recognition. Thankfully, the university agreed. However, Neira’s family wasn’t sure he would survive to see his long-cherished dream come true.
Finally, nearly seven decades after he first enrolled in college, 88-year-old Neira got his degree of recognition in December 2021!
Reminiscing the memorable moments
Salazar said that the experience of having her grandpa on the same campus where she was studying was memorable in itself.
On the day of their graduation, Salazar wheeled Neira onto the stage so that he could receive his diploma. He was weak, terminally ill, and under hospice care. Salazar still reminisces about the memorable moments on stage when she felt overwhelmed. She remembered the arduous journey her grandfather had undergone to get to this prestigious stage. Neira had to work really hard to overcome his hearing loss, not having a car, having to commute by public transport, and having to adapt to the modernized online education that was completely different from how he had learned during his school days!
Though the whole stadium erupted in applause when he was awarded the coveted degree, Salazar said that she couldn’t hear anything. All she felt was pride and silence.
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