Unlike the more than 1,000 recent graduates participating in UW-Madison’s commencement ceremony Sunday, 77-year-old Luciano Barraza finished his studies at the university 50 years ago.
Barraza didn’t participate in commencement ceremonies in 1967 when he finished his doctorate in agricultural economics because of a lack of money and work obligations in his native Mexico — a decision that his grandson, 17-year-old Raul Correa, recently learned Barraza regretted.
“My grandson asked me if I had any regrets … and I told him now I regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in commencement ceremony,” Barraza said. “At that time it was not economical.”
Barraza, now living in San Antonio, will be among the hundreds of graduates at UW-Madison, Madison Area Technical College, Edgewood College and UW-Whitewater participating in commencement ceremonies this week and weekend.
Fifteen family members from as far away as Spain will join Barraza for Sunday’s ceremony.
Without months of work from grandson Raul, Barraza might not have ever had the chance.
Raul, a high school senior who also lives in San Antonio, said Barraza is the most influential person in his life. He said his grandfather helped instill a good work ethic — and love for UW-Madison — in him.
After seeing how proud Barraza was of Raul’s mom when she finished her doctorate degree, Raul said he decided about 11 months ago to convince UW-Madison to let Barraza participate in commencement.
“Seeing the pride on his face when his daughter followed in his footsteps, it gave me the crazy idea to do something,” he said.
With all that Barraza has done for him and his family, Raul said it was the least he could do.
“He was always doing something for me and my family,” he said. “He’s a very humble person. He’s had a very successful career … and he really hasn’t asked for anything in return.”
After about 200 phone calls and 100 emails over two months, Raul had an answer.
His emails found their way to the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, said Jeremy Foltz, the department’s chairman.
Foltz said he sent Raul a letter to give to Barraza inviting him to participate in commencement after the university said it was possible and the department decided it was a great idea.
“I feel very proud of him because it shows his determination to do the things he proposes to do,” Barraza said of his grandson.
It’s not unusual for students from his department to come back a semester after finishing their degrees to participate in May graduation, Foltz said, but he’s never heard of a student coming back for commencement after more than just a semester.
“I don’t think there’s anybody that came back after a year,” he said. “I think the graduation ceremony for students is the culmination of all that hard work … In some ways for Barraza it’s a celebration of that career and lifetime.”
UW-Madison will hold its mid-year commencement at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Kohl Center.
Other area colleges will hold ceremonies Saturday and Sunday. MATC was holding its commencement Thursday.
Educated in the US
Barraza came to the United States with his wife, Martha, in 1963 to work on his master’s and doctoral degrees after studying agricultural engineering in Mexico.
After defending his thesis dissertation, Barraza had to return to Mexico for his job and to be with his family.
He said he couldn’t afford to come back or stay in Madison for the weeks between the dissertation defense and commencement.
He is now retired and living in San Antonio after a career at several national and multinational companies. He was raised on a cattle ranch in north-central Mexico.
Barraza’s four children have advanced college degrees. He said watching them participate in their commencements made him realize that participating in graduation ceremonies is special.
Before Sunday’s ceremony, Barraza will attend an event for Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics graduates, where he and other doctorate students will participate in a “hooding” ceremony.
During commencement, Chancellor Rebecca Blank plans to recognize Barraza in her speech, said UW-Madison spokesman Doug Erickson.
Barraza said he has followed UW-Madison news and developments and has cheered for the Badgers since leaving.
Barraza and grandson Raul have attended numerous Badgers football and basketball games, most recently the football team’s win against Northwestern in September. They’ll even attend the Orange Bowl game against Miami in Miami Gardens on Dec. 30 together, Raul said.
Raul, who is in the process of applying for colleges, said UW-Madison is his top choice.
Barraza — who has been to Madison many times since leaving in 1967 — said he has many fond memories of going to school and living in the city.
“Obviously I am very proud, very flattered to have the attention of the university,” Barraza said, adding that he is “thankful to the university for what they did 50 years ago and what they are doing now.”