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82-year-old man attends college with 18-year-old granddaughter

Posted September 21

SAN ANTONIO — A college freshman wasn’t alone when she hit campus for her first day of classes — she had her grandfather by her side.

Melanie Salazar, 18, began her first semester at Palo Alto Community College in San Antonio with one of her best friends — her 82-year-old grandfather, Rene Neira, according to CBS News. Neira, an economics major, has been taking classes at the college for the past 40 years and is one class away from his associate’s degree.

“I think people are very drawn to him because this is an everyday person — an 82-year-old person — who isn’t giving up on their education,” Salazar told CBS. “He’s determined to get his degree.”

The proud granddaughter tweeted a few photos with her fellow classmate on the first day of school, and the Internet went nuts.

“I’m so proud of my grandpa for finishing his first day at PAC this semester!” she wrote. “82 years old and not giving up!!!”

As of Monday night, Salazar’s post had more than 5,500 likes and 2,400 retweets. Both Salazar and Neira have been stunned by all the attention.

“I never thought anything of it, an older man taking college classes. It was something I grew up seeing,” Salazar told Today. “Even now, the fact I’m now going to the same college as my grandfather, it kind of feels normal to me. It’s been great to have something that feels almost ordinary to me be so extraordinary to all these people.”

Neira told Today he’d always wanted to get a degree in economics. He started his college education at St. Mary’s University back in 1952 but dropped out after about two years after getting married and starting a family.

He took a few classes here and there as his own children pursued their own degrees, and dove in more seriously after his wife died in 2009.

“He’ll spend hours at a time in the library by himself just studying,” Salazar told CBS. “He’s very focused with schoolwork.”

Neira isn’t quite comfortable with the idea of being an Internet sensation. After all, he doesn’t own a computer or a cell phone.

“I really don’t like all the distraction. It bothers me… I just want to mind my own business,” he told Today. “But if I’m helping people, inspiring and motivating them to get their education, that’s fine with me. It makes me feel good.”

While his time at PACU is coming to a close, Neira’s education isn’t quite over yet. He plans to apply to the University of Texas at San Antonio to finally get that bachelor’s degree in economics.

Neira will always have a cheerleader in his granddaughter.

“It really inspires me and keeps me determined,” Salazar told CBS. “I want to be like my grandpa and be determined to find what I love and get a degree.”

Jessica Ivins is a content manager for KSL.com and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.

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