Seniors are achieving great things all around us, whether their goals are big or small. Sometimes, collecting a piece of paper decades after it was earned carries untold meaning to the people who didn’t walk the stage, take the last class or finish the last semester, because life got in the way. This month we bring you three inspiring stories of three nonagenarians who are finally collecting their diplomas from institutions whose halls they walked decades ago. As caregivers and homecare companions, it’s important to remember that rituals and milestones have meaning at every age, and we celebrate them this month along with these seniors in the news!
World War II veteran Alfonso Gonzales demobbed after the war, and went to college, along with tens of thousands of his peers on the GI Bill. He started at Compton Junior College and transferred to USC in 1947, almost, but not quite, finishing his bachelor’s degree. In the course of building a family, and launching and running a successful landscaping business in Los Angeles, he didn’t take that one last credit. And of course, he didn’t need his diploma in hand to use what he had learned – he and his generation were getting it done! The 96-year-old former Marine’s family wanted to get a copy of his diploma to display on the wall, when the missing credit hour was discovered. But ‘Ponchie’, as he is known, is ready to do what it takes to finish the job, interrupted by life all those years ago, and USC Dean of School of Gerontology Pinchas Cohen is making sure he gets the chance. According to Cohen, “We would do whatever it takes to reach this goal. He is a special student and we all are delighted to have him here.” Ponchie is scheduled to graduate on May 13, 2016, along with the rest of the class of 2016.
On March 9, ninety-three-year-old Dorothy Louise Liggett crossed one more item off her bucket list – an item that usually isn’t even on a bucket list. Dorothy Liggett never received her high school diploma, because she was expelled in 1942, two months short of graduation day, for being married. She and her then-sweetheart, a 1940 graduate of the same high school, decided to elope when he was called to the Army Air Corps. When they discovered they were having a baby, they planned for Dorothy to graduate, then join him on assignment. But one day she forgot her gym clothes, and the teacher told her to go to study hall. Dorothy, indignant, said she would not, as she was married, and that she was going home instead. The policy at the time was that married students couldn’t attend high school, so she was expelled, and never received her diploma. Seventy-four years later, Dorothy’s oldest daughter, who always felt guilty that her imminent arrival sent her parents’ best-laid plans awry, wrote to the current Akron Public Schools Superintendent, David W. James. She explained the situation, and he immediately agreed that justice had not been done in Dorothy’s case. So last month, in her driveway, she received her diploma, in a cap and gown, as her five children, sons- and daughters-in-law looked on. Superintendent James said, as he hand-delivered her diploma, that it was both long over-due and well-deserved.
Stanley Lawruk has earned the French Legion of Honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and entry into the Delaware Aviation Hall of Fame, but until age 92, he still hadn’t received his H.S. diploma – and it was always the one that got away. Stanley left school during his senior year to start working to help support his family, and then enlisted with the Air Force to fight in World War II. As a flight engineer on a B-17, he flew 24 missions over Europe before his plane was shot down over Sweden in 1944. He and his crew survived, and Stanley earned both the Air Medal, and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and service. After building a successful business, enjoying a long and happy marriage, and raising a big family, Stanley had one gap in his record – his high school diploma. In February 2016, the local school board awarded him an honorary diploma which he received with gratitude and pleasure. He plans to show it to all his friends at the Lions Club and the American Legion Hall, too.