Fifty years ago, Luciano Barraza earned a doctoral degree in agricultural economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But because of factors out of his control, he never walked across the stage with his classmates. This year, his grandson, Raul Barraza, made it possible for the Mexican native to live out his lifelong dream.

“My grandfather has always been my best friend,” Raul, a high school senior, told the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “When he told me that his economic woes had outweighed his ability to participate in the graduation ceremony, I got this crazy idea to contact Madison.”

Raul didn’t know where to start, but he contacted more than a hundred people for his abuelito. He believes he left around 200 voice mail messages and sent out about 150 emails. One of the emails landed in Kim Santiago’s inbox. With the help of Jeremy Foltz, chairman of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, they invited Luciano to come back for the ceremony on December 17.

Luciano first came to the United States after earning a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering at Chapingo University. On advice from a mentor, he came to the United States to further his education, first earning a master’s degree in agricultural economics from UW-Madison. He followed that up with a doctorate program at the college. By June 1966, he had finished the coursework, but went back to Mexico to work at the Banco de México. He split his time between his job and his doctoral thesis. He returned to Wisconsin in 1967 to defend his thesis, but he wasn’t able to stay or return for the ceremony a few weeks later. He received his diploma in the mail.

As a result, his very determined grandson’s grand gesture touched him. “Even now, I get very emotional just talking about it,” Luciano said. “It reminds me of all of the things that happened when I was young and how much the university was able to provide me in developing my professional career.”

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