UW PhD grad walks in graduation ceremony 50 years after completing degree

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Luciano Barraza was not able to walk in his graduation ceremony in the winter of 1967 because he had to return to Mexico to continue his work. Now, at age 77, he's attending the graduation ceremony he's always wanted.

Barraza completed his PhD in agricultural economics after arguing his thesis in November of 1967. By that time, he had already taken a job working as an economist in his home country of Mexico. The graduation ceremony held by the university to honor fall graduate students wasn't being held until January.

"Obviously I didn't have the economic resources to stay and, besides that, I was working in Mexico and I needed to come back to work," Barraza said. "It was expensive so I couldn't do it."

Fifty years later, in the spring of this year, Barraza watched his daughter get her PhD from the University of Texas-Austin. His 17-year-old grandson, Raul Correa, was with him the day they saw his mother don the hood, cap and gown in her ceremony.

It was that day that Raul asked his grandfather why he never celebrated his graduation with a commencement ceremony. His grandfather explained the story.

"He was like 'yeah it was something I might have regretted,' and it just started from there," Raul said.

Raul asked his grandfather why he never tried to reach out to the UW to see if he could walk in a ceremony.

"I said 'well it's impossible 50 years later to come back. I mean, the university is 50,000 students, whatever, I mean, they aren't going to think of a guy that graduated 50 years ago,'" Barraza said

Raul wanted to give his grandfather the chance to go to a ceremony. He started a seven month long journey to surprise his grandfather with the graduation ceremony he never had. He started calling faculty members, administrators and other leaders at the UW.

"It was a lot of voicemails and a lot of, you know, secretaries sending me different places and just kind of begging to tell the story," Raul said.

Raul says he made most of those phone calls in the bathroom of his family's San Antonio home so his grandfather would not hear him making plans.

He says after making nearly 200 phone calls, he finally got the word from Kim Santiago, an outreach specialist with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, that his grandfather would be able to walk in the winter commencement ceremony at UW.

When Raul showed his grandfather an invitation letter from the university, he says it was an emotional moment.

"Seeing the tears come to his eyes, I was like, wow I didn't think it was that big of a deal, but he obviously he really enjoyed it," Raul said.

Exactly 50 years after completing his PhD, Barraza put on a cap and gown and walked across the stage at the Kohl Center with the rest of the fall 2017 graduates.

"I am obviously grateful," Barraza said. "I am overwhelmed."

All of Barraza's children have gone on to receive advanced degrees. One of his children also received a degree from the UW. Now, his grandson, Raul, is hoping to go there after he graduates from high school this spring.

"Madison is definitely my home and my number one choice for colleges," Raul said.