23-year-old woman and her 88-year-old terminally ill grandfather graduate college together

A 23-year-old Texas woman celebrated her college commencement ceremony with a special guest: her 88-year-old grandfather who graduated the same day. 

The sweet moment happened at the University of Texas at San Antonio commencement ceremony Dec. 11. Melanie Salazar, graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts in communications. At the same time, Salazar's grandfather, Rene Neira, received a degree of recognition in economics.

The degrees are the culmination of the duo attending college together. Salazar and Neira became viral sensations in 2016 when Salazar posted on social media her grandfather was attending Palo Alto College in San Antonio. Salazar told ABC News that Neira was in the process of receiving his associate's degree from the community college, then planned to attend UTSA to receive his bachelor's degree.

The two were able to cross the graduation stage together.

"Since the 1950s, he has been working toward his bachelor's degree, and it has been one of his life goals and dreams," Salazar told ABC News. "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."

Salazar said the past few years have been challenging for her grandfather. Before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Neira suffered a minor stroke and took a medical leave of absence from school, she said. 

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“Melanie and her grandfather, Rene, epitomize the resiliency and perseverance of our students, many of whom are the first in their family to go to college and earn a degree," UTSA spokesperson Joe Izbrand said in a statement to USA TODAY. "These two newest UTSA alumni remind us that learning is a lifelong journey, and there are no limits to what you can accomplish when you have a passion for knowledge. We are so proud of both of them and of all our graduates, who are ready to take on the world.”

ValleyCentral News reported Neira was a few credits short of getting his degree, but the university gave him a degree in recognition since he is terminally ill and in hospice care. 

Salazar said when the two walked on the stage together, she was overcome with emotion as the crowd applauded them.

“I told him, ‘This is our moment. I want to share it with you,’” she said. “I'm so proud of my grandpa, and I'm so thankful I was able to have this moment, this memory, with him.”

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.