Two Generations, One Goal

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Neira and Salazar walking on Palo Alto College’s campus. Photo by Alexis D. Vega.

By Alexis D. Vega
Pulse Staff Reporter

Rene Neira and his granddaughter Melanie Salazar spend Saturday mornings eating breakfast together, go to the movies and also attend Sunday Mass together. What is even more special about this pair is that they attend the same college.

The Palo Alto College students have won the hearts of many Americans in a few short months with their heartwarming story.

“I don’t see anything different,” said Neira. “We wonder why people are making such a big deal out of it….but if me just going to school can make other people feel inspired, then this may be the greatest thing I have ever done.”

Neira, 82, and Salazar, 18, have always been close. In excitement of the first day of her grandfather’s last semester before receiving his associate’s degree in Economics, Salazar tweeted photos of them on his first day of class. Attention quickly came toward the pair, receiving more than 2,000 retweets and making the national news.

In high school, Salazar was an honor student, graduating in the top 10 percent of her class of about 700 students. She was also active with her church youth group while in high school. Now that she is in her first semester of college, she is ready to take it on with just as much force.

“I’m like living for it,” said Salazar, talking about how she has joined several organizations on campus. She hopes to keep herself busy and make it easier to meet new friends.

“For my daughter, I have a lot of hopes for her. She has so many possibilities, and I hope she finds her direction. I pray that everything will fall into place for her and the right people,” said Margie Salazar. “For my father I pray that he gets his associate’s degree. It’s a huge dream of his, and he is pushing to keep going. I remember seeing him take Saturday classes in the 1980s and to see him graduate would be unbelievable for me.”

The college journey for both students has been different but equally as fulfilling. Neira’s school journey began at Saint Mary’s University in the 1950s. This Fall 2016, he plans to pass his last required class to receive an associate’s degree in Economics and move on to purse a bachelor’s degree.

“Sometimes I wonder to myself what is an 82-year-old man doing going to school, but I’ve always wanted to do it. I have the health and the ability to, so here I am doing it,” said Neira.

What most people don’t know is that Neira has already received a general associate’s degree from San Antonio College back in the 1980s in Arts.

“I have become attached to Palo Alto. I think it would be nice to be able to get my associate’s of Economics here,” said Neira.

Over the years, Neira has noticed that the only major difference from the beginning of his education to now is the advancement of technology.

“It gets demanding on him. There is technology involved, and that’s extra on him since he doesn’t have a computer, so he spends a lot of time at the library,” said Margie Salazar. “I hope people also know the things that he is dealing with, like being hard of hearing and seeing he still is just making it happen. Even if he has to take the bus or walk, he is going to class and pushing on.”

Although he would like to earn his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, his degree is not offered at this time. He is looking into the University of Texas at San Antonio.

In education, both agreed that no matter what generation you are in, you should always develop good habits when studying. They believe that if you study and figure out a system that works for you–read, taking notes, and discipline yourself to do homework–then you can make it.

“Anybody can do it, but it’s not easy. It has never been easy for me, but it can be done,” said Neira.

Over the years while providing for his family and furthering his education, Neira has been able to use his passion of carpentry as a pastime. He has revamped the wooden vessel that holds the Holy Water at Holy Name Catholic Church, and he has also built a bench for the children’s choir. A gazebo, one of his creations that he is most proud, stands in his back yard.

“I appreciate having a role model who wants to still continue his education, even if is just to say that he earned it. I’ve learned from my grandpa how important it is to get an education,” said Melanie Salazar.

These two special students show that an education is far more than a degree. Earning a degree demonstrates passion, inspiration and fulfillment.