'He worked so hard despite having hearing loss and working twice as hard to understand the ever-changing content of economics.'
An 88-year-old who postponed his educational goals for many years to build a family and a banking career, finally saw his decades of hard work pay off, earlier this month. Rene Neira proved it's never too late to make dreams come true when he received a degree in recognition in economics from the University of Texas at San Antonio. "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 goal was to earn a degree in economics," his granddaughter, Melanie Salazar, told TODAY.
When Neira finally did get to go to college, it proved to be a family affair for him and Salazar. "In the 50s, he started school, then soon fell in love and started a family," the 23-year-old revealed, reports CBS News. "Then he went back in the 80s, the 90s, the early 2000s, and then it just so happened that he went back to school again at the same time that I was starting." Neira enrolled at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas, in 2016 along with Salazar, who was starting as a freshman. The pair earned their associate's degree at the same time and enrolled at the same school again: the University of Texas San Antonio.
"We never had classes together, but there were times we would meet up for lunch in the cafeteria, or sometimes we would be studying side-by-side in the library," Salazar, who was a communications major while Neira pursued a degree in economics, shared. "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! Sometimes he would need help navigating the school’s website for his classes and I would help him. I often would take him to campus and take him back home."
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
"From what has been shared with me, he always had something to say, especially if his professors had different opinions than him," Salazar 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.' His classmates, I think, were motivated and inspired to see him." Although Neira didn't officially earn the credits needed to graduate, due to several health issues affecting his studies, his granddaughter and family advocated for him and requested the university to honor him and his hard work in some way.
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
￼#UTSAGrad21 @UTSAHC @UTSACOLFA @UTSABusiness pic.twitter.com/jSsUSeyR4F
A week before the graduation ceremony, Neira found out the school was giving him a degree of recognition. On the day of their graduation earlier this month, Salazar wheeled Neira—who is terminally ill and in hospice care—onto the stage to receive his diploma. "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," Salazar said. "He worked so hard despite having hearing loss, sometimes not having a car and having to take the public bus, and working twice as hard to understand the ever-changing and modernizing content of economics that has changed since he first started school."
"I was saying to him, 'Grandpa, you did it, we did it, college is over, you did it.' And my grandpa was kind of tired at that time and he asked, 'I did what?'" she said, laughing. "But it was definitely a special moment and to be able to say, 'you did it' and that he will be able to receive his degree in the mail to have and hold, I am definitely proud of my grandpa. It's beautiful to see the end of a chapter. Before he dies, before he will pass, he was able to walk the stage, like he had been working towards since the 50s."