This was such a sweet story and a reminder that it’s not too late to get started on your dreams. In the new year, a young woman and her 88-year-old grandfather are taking on the world together as new college grads!
Good Morning America originally shared the story of Melanie Salazar, a 23-year-old woman from San Antonio, graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio on Dec. 11 with a bachelor of arts in communications. Her 88-year-old grandfather, Rene Neira, was right on stage with her, receiving his own degree of recognition in economics.
The duo had originally enrolled in school together at a local community college, Palo Alto College, in 2016. Melanie had just gotten her high school diploma, while Rene, at the age of 82, decided he wanted to go back to school to finally get his bachelor’s degree. Melanie shared that her grandfather had started working on his degree in the 1950s. However, Rene became busy with being a husband, a father of five, and other roles including working at a bank and community activism. He took a class here and there but never finished.
In 2017, Melanie and Rene both transferred to the University of Texas at San Antonio. They never took a class together but spent a significant amount of time supporting each other on campus. “We would get lunch together and be in the library together and just work silently side-by-side,” Melanie shared. She also helped him with the daunting task of completing online work. “There were also many times where I drove him to school during the seasons when he didn’t have his car,” she added.
Right before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Rene sadly suffered a minor stroke and took a medical leave of absence from school. The pandemic then forced students and faculty into online learning, which was another obstacle Rene couldn’t quite overcome. Sadly, his health has continued to decline and he has trouble speaking. However, Melanie wanted her grandfather to be recognized for his hard work.
When it was time for Melanie’s December graduation, she and her family reached out to university officials, requesting that Rene receive a degree of recognition. The officials happily obliged. On December 11, 2021, the two were set to cross the stage together. Rene was, at first, reluctant to participate, stating that he wanted Melanie to have her moment to shine on stage.
“I told him, ‘This is our moment. I want to share it with you,’” she recalled. The two indeed had that beautiful moment together, with Rene’s dream finally realized. “When we were on stage, I felt like I was overcome with emotion,” Melanie said. “Everything was silent. I didn’t hear any clapping or applause but I was told that the whole stadium erupted.” The graduate added, “I’m so proud of my grandpa and I’m so thankful I was able to have this moment, this memory, with him.”
This was a huge birthday present for Rene, who turned 88 on December 17! Melanie is planning to work for a nonprofit and is forever inspired by her grandfather’s willingness to learn and engage with the world around him. It truly is a testament that, as long as you’re alive, you have purpose and can commit to personal development in life. Congrats to Melanie and Rene for this great achievement!