High School Graduation is a big deal. It’s an occasion full of ritual and metaphor. We start on one side of a stage and then, in front of our family, friends, teachers, and fellow students, we receive our diplomas. We cross over the stage and then find ourselves as graduates on the other side. This crossing over is an important gesture psychologically. This seemingly simple ceremony represents our crossing over into the future.
Unless you didn’t get to participate in that ceremony…
For many veterans, war took over this time in their lives. Whether they enlisted or were drafted, many young Americans spent their teen years abroad, fighting to protect America’s freedoms. For them, this meant not participating in the graduation ceremonies. They didn’t get to move their tassels over or throw their caps in the air. They wore thick uniforms instead of robes.
Al Steenwyk and J.D. Sexton have finally gotten to cross that threshold and celebrate something that many of us take for granted; receiving their diploma.
Al Steenwyk, age 84, is a veteran of the Korean war. He left school when he was 13 years old in order to work on a farm. But when he joined the military, he earned his GED. Later, he earned a college degree and an MBA.
So why didn’t he receive his diploma?
Steenwyk was invited to walk at the 1951 graduation in Hudsonville, MI, once he had returned from the war, but the invitation came a week late and he never walked. Many of us take this ceremony for granted, but for Steenwyk, it’s all he wanted to do. This year he finally received his diploma. He was able to walk across the stage with the class of 2015 and get recognition for his accomplishment from long ago.
Unlike the teenage graduates, Steenwyk has already had a future. The ceremony wasn’t about moving forward, but more so about finishing his past. But that didn’t detract from the collective feeling of pride among all in attendance.
Al Steenwyk’s not the only one receiving his diploma this year! J.D. Sexton and many other veterans in Alabama are graduating for a different reason, thanks to the Alabama Department of Education.