88-year-old working towards college degree since the 1950s graduates alongside granddaughter

Rene Neira, a living example of how hard work can make your dreams come true, is Rene Neira

The University of Texas at San Antonio recently awarded the 88 year-old a degree of economic recognition.

The remarkable thing about this milestone is that Neira accepted his diploma together with Melanie Salazar (23), who earned a communications degree.

Rene Neira at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas

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 no choice but to put off his education for many years in order to care for his family and to start a bank 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 was active in marches and rallies, and he became involved with local government. From that time, one of his life’s goal was to earn a degree in economics.”

Melanie Salazar and Rene Neira during their graduation day at University of Texas at San Antonio

Neira started taking classes in the 1950s. After he married and had children, he went back to school. 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 in the same year that Salazar, a freshman, shared photos of her grandfather at school via 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.

Melanie Salazar and Rene Neira at Palo Alto College

They never had a class together, but they were able to spend lots time together as they shared the same campus. 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.

Melanie Salazar and Rene Neira at the University of Texas San Antonio

Neira and Salazar used to eat together in cafeterias and study side-by-side. Sometimes, Salazar would help her granddad navigate the school’s website for his classes. She would also drive him to campus, and then take him back home.

Neira, who is now in hospice care and terminally ill, had to overcome many obstacles during his education journey.

He had to work hard, despite hearing loss, and he took the bus sometimes.

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.

Melanie Salazar and Rene Neira doing the "birds up" sign during their graduation day at University of Texas San Antonio.

Their pleas were heard. Neira learned that he would be awarded a degree of recognition a week before his graduation!

Salazar wheeled Neira onto Salazar’s graduation day earlier in the month to receive his diploma, which he had long worked 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.”

These graduates deserve our congratulations

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