Some old dogs can be taught new tricks.
Seven decades after Rene Neira first enrolled in college, the 88-year-old finally got his degree this month, and alongside his 23-year-old granddaughter.
“When we were on stage, I felt like I was overcome with emotion,” Neira’s granddaughter, Melanie Salazar, told “Good Morning America” of the Dec. 11 ceremony at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Everything was silent. I didn’t hear any clapping or applause but I was told that the whole stadium erupted.”
Salazar received her bachelor of arts in communications at the same time her grandpa got his degree of recognition in economics. But while Salazar had started working towards becoming a college graduate in 2016, her grandfather’s journey started many years prior.
“Since the 1950s, he has been working toward his bachelor’s degree and it has been one of his life goal and dreams,” said Salazar. “But in the ’50s he fell in love and got married and started a family, so he wasn’t able to continue school right away.”
Neira would take courses here and there over the course of the latter half of the 21st century, but it took the backseat to his roles as a father of five, community activist, husband and local bank employee.
After Salazar finished high school, though, Neira was inspired to join her in enrolling at the University of Texas at San Antonio. As they simultaneously worked towards degrees together over the past few years, they never shared a class, but often carpooled to school and studied together — and then the pandemic hit.
Once again, Neira’s dream of a degree was derailed, this time by his ailing health and struggle to navigate suddenly remote courses.
Badly wanting her grandfather to finally fulfill his dream of getting a college degree on this mortal plane, Salazar and her family asked that university officials award Neira a degree of recognition for his efforts, despite him not completing enough credits to earn a degree. They agreed.
“We were really pushing for it because we were hoping, since his health is declining, that he could have that memory before he passes,” Salazar said, adding of their shared graduation ceremony: “I’m so proud of my grandpa and I’m so thankful I was able to have this moment, this memory, with him.”