23-Year-Old Woman And Her 88-Year-Old Terminally Ill Grandfather Graduate College Together

A 23-year-old woman graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio alongside her 88-year-old grandfather this month.

Proving that age is just a number is Melanie Salazar and her grandfather Rene Neira, who collected their respective degrees together despite their 65 year age gap.

Melanie - who earned a bachelor of arts in communications - told Good Morning America that she was "overcome with emotion" when the two were on stage together.

"Everything was silent. I didn't hear any clapping or applause but I was told that the whole stadium erupted," she recalled.

Melanie and her grandfather enrolled at the University of Texas at San Antonio together in 2017. She had recently graduated high school, while he was finally setting aside the time to get the degree he had always wanted.

"Since the 1950s, he has been working toward his bachelor's degree and it has been one of his life goal and dreams," Melanie said. "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."

Between being a husband, a father of five, a community activist, and working at a local bank, Rene never had the time to achieve his lifelong dream of getting a degree. That is until he joined Melanie at the University of Texas at the ripe old age of 83.

Although Rene and his grandaughter weren't in the same classes, they would often carpool to school and study together.

"We would get lunch together and be in the library together and just work silently side-by-side," said Melaine. "There were also many times where I drove him to school during the seasons when he didn't have his car."

Melanie added that have her grandfather studying alongside her was a huge source of pride.

"I was also the president of a club at school for a while and there were times when he would come to my club meetings. That was really special because I could always show him off and shout out that my grandpa was there," she said.

Just before the pandemic began, Rene suffered a minor stroke and had to take a medical leave of absence from school. When social distancing measures forced classes to move online, he continued his leave due to ill health and the difficulty of navigating online lessons.

As her grandfather's health worsened, Melanie and her family asked the university if they could grant him a degree of recognition. Officials agreed, and Melanie and her grandfather were able to collect their degrees together on graduation day.

"It was the week of graduation that we were told that he would be able to graduate," she said. "We were really pushing for it because we were hoping, since his health is declining, that he could have that memory before he passes."

"I'm so proud of my grandpa and I'm so thankful I was able to have this moment, this memory, with him," Melanie added.

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