Don Felipe is living proof that it’s never too late to achieve one’s dreams: the 84-year-old Puebla man has just graduated with an engineering degree from the state’s largest and oldest university.
After almost five years of study at the new campus of the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla (BUAP) in San José Chiapa, Felipe Espinosa Tecuapetla, a former soldier and shopkeeper who still occasionally sells fruit and vegetables at local markets, has completed his degree in process and industrial management engineering.
And he’s not done yet: Don Felipe — as the octogenarian is known by neighbors, friends and fellow students — plans to keep studying; a master’s degree is one option he’s considering.
“Nothing will stop me. I’ll make my request to continue studying,” Espinosa told the newspaper El Universal before pausing and then conceding that the only thing that could hinder his future plans is death.
As a sprightly 79-year-old, Don Felipe gained admission to the engineering course at the new San José Chiapa campus after passing an entrance examination in July 2016.
He started classes the next month, rising at 4:30 a.m. and traveling up to two hours by bus from Puebla city to reach the campus, which specializes in education relevant to the automotive sector.
Soon after starting the course, Don Felipe realized he would need a computer. After some difficulty, he was eventually able to borrow one and learned how to use it. It became especially important during the coronavirus pandemic, when classes and coursework became virtual rather than face-to-face.
The Puebla city native told El Universal that he didn’t see the technology requirements as an obstacle to his success and was always confident that he would complete the degree.
“I see well, I hear well, I reason well. These are my great assets,” Espinosa said. “… I don’t have a hollow head.”
The widowed father of five added that if one is an “old monkey,” as he put it, one should learn new tricks rather than resting on one’s laurels.
Asked what motivated him to undertake a university degree at his age, Don Felipe — whose son is an engineer — cited the desire to better himself and remarked that “things are changing” and “you only live once.”
Studying alongside young people was a “very nice” and “unforgettable” experience because they have “different memories” and “different thoughts,” he added.
Don Felipe, who has lived alone since the death of his wife, also found a sense of community at the campus.
“I’m no longer alone. People say hello to me everywhere. To be a graduate of BUAP is a great source of pride,” Espinosa said, adding that he will now have to conduct himself in a way that honors the designation he has earned — “with respect, always upright.”
“The truth is I feel very happy to have finished my studies at the San José Chiapa university. It’s never too late to carry on with life. Dreams come true,” he told the newspaper Milenio.
His words were echoed by the BUAP rector, who congratulated the university’s oldest new graduate in a Twitter post.
“At the Meritorious Autonomous University of Puebla, dreams come true. After a lot of effort, sacrifice and discipline, Don Felipe, at the age of 84, is a proud graduate of the first generation of process and industrial management engineering [students] in San José Chiapa. Congratulations!” Alfonso Esparza Ortiz wrote.