Rene Neira's inspiring journey is a testament to the fact that age should never be a barrier to pursuing one's passions, especially when supported by a loving family.
At 88 years old, Rene recently achieved a remarkable milestone by receiving a degree in economics from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and he proudly accepted his diploma alongside his granddaughter, Melanie Salazar, who also graduated.
The pursuit of higher education became a family affair for these two exceptional individuals, although their plan to pursue degrees together was not initially in the cards. Melanie revealed to TODAY that her grandfather had put his educational aspirations on hold for many years as he focused on building a family and a successful banking career. She shared, "He was very passionate about urban and economic development of the southside of San Antonio. 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 goals was to earn a degree in economics."
Rene began taking classes intermittently in the 1950s when he got married and started a family. Once his children reached adulthood, he returned to school in the 1980s and later resumed his studies after the passing of his wife in 2009. Rene pursued his associate's degree at Palo Alto College, a local institution where Melanie also decided to enroll after graduating from high school.
Their educational journey gained attention in 2016 when Melanie posted several photos of her grandfather on Twitter, and they quickly went viral. Rene successfully earned his associate's degree, and both he and Melanie enrolled at the University of Texas at San Antonio to continue their academic pursuits. Although they never had a class together at the university, they cherished the quality time they spent with each other.
Melanie fondly shared her experience, saying, "It was definitely an interesting experience to have my grandpa on campus with me, but I was pretty used to it. It became my normal!" While pursuing her degree in communications, she and Rene would often share meals in the cafeteria, study side by side, and help each other navigate the school's website for their respective classes. Melanie would even accompany her grandfather to and from campus, ensuring his smooth transition.
During their graduation ceremony at UTSA earlier this month, Melanie wheeled Rene onto the stage as he is currently in hospice care due to a terminal illness. The moment was nothing short of miraculous for both of them. Rene expressed his gratitude, saying, "It felt like a miracle! We didn't know if we would see this moment come true with his declining health. I am very thankful that UTSA was able to make it happen and that he was recognized for his work." Despite facing challenges such as hearing loss, lack of transportation, and the need to grasp the ever-changing content of economics since his initial schooling, Rene persevered and worked diligently.
I'm so proud of my grandpa for finishing his first day at PAC this semester! 82 years old and not giving up!!! 😭🙌🏽💝 pic.twitter.com/IX4x5RhKXm— Melanie Salazar ♡ (@melaniesalazara) August 24, 2016
Melanie, who also pursued a minor in Spanish and civic engagement at UTSA's Honors College, emphasized the deep bond she shares with her grandfather. The experience of attending college together allowed them to create cherished memories and strengthened their relationship. She expressed her love and gratitude, stating, "I am so thankful to have him, and I am so thankful to have shared these memories together of college and graduations. I love him dearly."
Melanie, now equipped with her degree, aspires to work in the nonprofit sector, driven by the valuable lessons she learned from her grandfather's journey. She believes that Rene's story exemplifies the power of hard work and determination, affirming, "He worked hard, and so can anyone if they truly want it."
Good Morning America applauds Rene Neira and Melanie Salazar for their remarkable achievements and their inspiring demonstration of the limitless possibilities that come with dedication and perseverance. Their story serves as a reminder that age should never hinder the pursuit of dreams, and that with unwavering determination, anyone can overcome obstacles and achieve greatness.
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