Terminally Ill Grandfather Graduates College Alongside Granddaughter

By Darby Jones January 5, 2022
This grandfather-granddaughter duo from Texas share more than just a blood relation: they graduated college side-by-side.

Melanie Salazar, 23, and her grandfather Tene Neira, 88, graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) Dec. 11, 2021.

Neira started school in the 1950s, but fell in love and started a life for his family rather than finishing school in the traditional four-year timeframe. Taking classes occasionally throughout the years, Neira decided to gradually work towards his goal of earning a college degree.

Neira enrolled in college again in 2016, the same year Salazar began her freshman year. “It just so happened that he wanted to go back to school again at the same time that I was starting.” Salazar told CNN. “It wasn’t intentionally planned, but it just worked out that way that we were in school at the same time.”

The pair started classes during the 2016 spring semester at Palo Alto College, but later transferred to UTSA together. They never shared classes together because of their differing majors — Salazar received her Bachelor of Arts in communications, while Neira got a degree of recognition in economics — but they would meet up to study, share lunch or carpool to campus. 

Neira suffered a stroke just before the pandemic began, which forced him to take a medical leave from school. Then, the transition to digital learning was too difficult for him to navigate.

However, he only had a few classes to go to earn his degree, so his family was determined to help him finish. “We, as his family, were able to advocate for him and request to see if there was any way that he could be recognized or honored for all the work that he had done.” Salazar said.

The week of graduation, the family found out Neira would be honored. “It was definitely an early Christmas miracle that they were willing to recognize him.” Salazar said.

As Salazar pushed her grandfather across the stage, family, friends and classmates cheered them on. 

“When we walked past the curtains onto the stage, I was overcome with emotion and started to tear up because I didn’t know that we would actually get to share that moment together.” Salazar said, “I told him afterwards, ‘You did it, grandpa! College is over!'”

Sadly, Neira is now terminally ill and in hospice care.

“It’s never too late to go back to school.” Salazar adds. “Whatever your circumstance, there’s people that are ready and willing to help you follow your dreams.”

Image source: CNN