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Most people who graduate from college may have a warm memory of their grandparents watching from the crowd and clapping for them as they received their degree. But Melanie Salazar’s recollection of that event will come with a pretty unique twist.
At the same graduation ceremony that saw the 23-year-old woman earn her communications degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Salazar’s then-87-year-old grandfather, Rene Neira, was honored with a degree in economics.
His path to that stage was tough, especially in the last couple years, but it led to a moment that neither of them will forget. UTSA shared pictures of the two new graduates on Twitter.
ICYMI: Something very special happened this weekend at #UTSA Commencement: Rene Neira, 87, crossed the stage with his granddaughter, Melanie Salazar. She received her B.A. in Comms. He will earn his B.A. in Economics. Family goals!
— UTSA (@UTSA) December 13, 2021
“I was told that the whole stadium erupted,” Salazar told ABC’s “Good Morning America” after the December ceremony. She said she was “overcome with emotion” and couldn’t hear anything that was happening in the moment.
The pair first made news in 2016, when Salazar’s tweets about Neira being enrolled alongside her at Palo Alto College, a community college in San Antonio, went viral. At that time Neira was trying to finish an associate degree in order to get enrolled in the economics program at UTSA, which evidently happened.
According to “Good Morning America,” Neira is the son of Mexican immigrants and counted a bachelor’s degree among his life’s goals. Salazar told the show she liked to “show him off” to friends on campus and that they worked together often, despite never having a class together.
“We would get lunch together and be in the library together and just work silently side-by-side,” Salazar said.
Despite all his dedicated work, health issues and the pandemic created massive obstacles that kept Neira from finishing his education in the way he’d hoped. Salazar said he suffered a stroke and had too much difficulty keeping up with classes when UTSA shifted to online teaching, forcing him to take a leave from his studies.
However, when Salazar’s graduation day approached, she reached out to the school to see if he could be awarded a degree of recognition for all of his work. University officials approved the idea and honored him at the ceremony alongside his granddaughter, while she accepted her own degree.
“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 told “Good Morning America.”