Rene Neira is living proof that if you work long and hard enough for your dreams, you are bound to see them come true.
The 88-year-old recently received a degree of recognition in economics from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Making the milestone more remarkable is that Neira accepted his diploma and graduated together with his granddaughter, Melanie Salazar, 23, who earned a degree in communications.
Salazar and Neira didn’t always plan to pursue a degree together or what more receive a diploma at the same time. In fact, the granddad had to postpone his education for many years to take care of his family and build a banking career.
“He was very passionate about urban and economic development of the southside of San Antonio,” Salazar told TODAY via email. “In the 1960s, he did a lot of advocacy through civic engagement. He participated in rallies and marches and got involved with local government. From that time, one of his life’s goal was to earn a degree in economics.”
Neira took classes on and off beginning in the 1950s, when he got married and started a family. Once his children became adults in the 1980s, he went back to school and returned again after his wife’s death in 2009.
In 2016, Neira pursued his associate’s degree at Palo Alto College, a local school Salazar also chose to attend after graduating high school.
The pair went viral that same year when Salazar, a freshman at the time, shared a few photos of her grandfather in school on Twitter.
Neira and Salazar earned their associate’s degree together, and the pair enrolled at the same school again: the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The duo never had a class together during their time at school, but being on the same campus allowed them to enjoy lots of quality time with each other. Salazar said that having her grandpa with her was an “interesting experience.”
“From what has been shared with me, he always had something to say, especially if his professors had different opinions than him,” she said.
“And there were often times a professor would be talking about the past and say, ‘Hey Rene, you lived through that time period, tell us more about what you remember during that time.”
Salazar thinks his classmates were “motivated” and “inspired” to see him pursue his dreams of getting his diploma despite his advanced age.
Neira and Salazar would sometimes eat together in the cafeteria and study side by side. Sometimes, Salazar would help her granddad navigate the school’s website for his classes. She would also get him to campus and take him back home.
Neira, who is terminally ill and in hospice care, had to overcome many obstacles in his educational journey.
He had to work hard despite suffering from hearing loss, taking the public bus sometimes, and keeping up with the modernizing economics that has changed so much since he first started school.
Neira didn’t earn the credits needed to graduate, but Salazar and their family advocated for him and asked the university to honor his hard work in some way.
Their pleas were heard. A week before graduation, Neira found out he would receive a degree of recognition!
On their graduation day earlier this month, Salazar wheeled Neira onto the stage to receive the diploma he had long worked hard for. He flashed the “birds up” symbol used at UTSA Roadrunner sporting events to show school spirit.
“It’s beautiful to see the end of a chapter,” she said. “Before he dies, before he will pass, he was able to walk the stage, like he had been working towards since the 50s.”
Congratulations to these new graduates!
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