TAMPA, Fla. - He's not your typical student. At 81-years-old, Dionel Cotanda is older than most of his professors. He also happens to be the oldest graduate to earn a degree at the University of South Florida's commencement ceremony on Saturday.
For Cotanda, age is but a number.
"I finally reached this point where I completed my dissertation, I defended it on July 22, and now, I'll be graduating tomorrow," said Cotanda.
At the young age of 22, Cotanda came to America to escape Cuba's communist regime. He joined the Army and focused on his family, putting his own dreams on hold.
"My main concern has always been on how to make sure that my daughters and granddaughters and family does well," said Cotanda.
However, when his daughters began to attend USF, he got an idea.
"That sort of gave me the inspiration that maybe I should go back to school and finish what I started in Cuba," explained Cotanda. "So, I went and enrolled in USF."
He has dedicated years to his education. He completed his bachelor's degree in 1988 and then proceeded to earn his master's degree ten years later.
"I've always felt, especially after I left Cuba, that the only thing I have that nobody can take away from me is what I know," said Cotanda.
At 81, he's a graduating grandfather. He told FOX 13 that he's proud of his accomplishments and inspired by his family.
"My daughters and granddaughters are proud of me. Really that where I get the pleasure of enjoying the accomplishment," said Cotanda.
He also has some advice for those who think it's too late to go after their dreams.
"Never give up. Just keep persisting and you'll get there."
Cotanda is one of two students in their eighties who will be graduating this weekend. The other student, 80-year-old Way Bandy, will be receiving his bachelor's degree on Sunday from USF St. Petersburg.