AUSTIN (KXAN) — St. Edward’s University will host its fall commencement Friday, including the first students earning their doctorate degree from the university’s new doctorate program.

Among the doctorate degree graduates is Emily Salazar, a 75-year-old woman and former St. Edward’s employee earning her Doctor of Education (EdD) degree. While Salazar will be the one accepting the degree Friday, she said it’s a reflection of all her family, students and loved ones who’ve championed her journey through higher education.

For 26 years, Salazar worked as a counselor at St. Edward’s, primarily working in the university’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), which provides tuition and housing support for qualifying students. She said it spoke to her personally, with her parents coming from poor backgrounds and her father’s family all migrant farmworkers.

Her parents lacked the opportunities and resources to pursue higher education. It was her father’s dream for her to become a doctor; decades later, she’s fulfilling that same promise she made him.

“It’s really become my mission to do the same thing my father did — you’ve got to go to college, if you can, go to graduate school,” she said. “I’ve been saying to a lot of people, I don’t feel like [my graduation is] my story. I feel like it’s the story of my father and my mother, and of all the kids that I met over the years.”

Inspired by her family’s background and her CAMP students, Salazar centered her dissertation on the migrant student experience — the financial and academic barriers that can face them, as well as the connotations that come with the word “migrant.”

“If I tell people I’m writing about migrant students, the first question is, ‘are they illegal? Do they work? Are they getting free tuition at this university?'” she said. “I want another portrait of migrant students.”

Her research focused on the backgrounds of these students and their successes on campus: The extracurriculars they did, the awards they received, the mentors they had and the services they used on campus.

“I’ve been saying to a lot of people, I don’t feel like [my graduation is] my story. I feel like it’s the story of my father and my mother, and of all the kids that I met over the years.”

Emily Salazar, 75-year-old St. Edward’s University doctorate graduate

“There needs to be more research, there needs to be more of us in different capacities, sharing their stories and their accomplishments,” she said. “So when you say the word ‘migrant,’ it doesn’t have negative connotations.”

During her 26 years as a St. Edward’s employee, she attended all of her students’ graduation ceremonies, except for the year her mother passed away. This year, the roles will be reversed, as one of her former students will accompany her at Friday’s ceremony.

“Every day since it’s been announced that I defended my research and I’m going to graduate — this morning, I have texts galore and emails galore, and they send me pictures,” she said. “And so they’re all with me in spirit.”

From her time spent working in, and later earning a doctorate degree in, higher education, she said she’s concerned about the future of academia. She’s worried about the costs of college degrees and funding for critical programs that support marginalized populations, as well as banned book discussions and limits on curricula.

Her hope is that this next generation of students will help champion long-term changes.

“I care about its future. I care about the future of this university and its students, and I care about the future of all the Gen Zers and of all the incoming students,” she said. “Because education, like my father said, is so very important.”