World War II veteran Frederick Gray, of Watertown, New York, finally got his high school diploma on Monday at age 97.
“I’m amazed ... I never in God’s world expected to be getting this,” said Gray. “I’m just dumbfounded by the thoughtfulness.”
Gray would have been a member of the class of 1934 at Watertown High School, but dropped out before graduating to join the Civilian Conservation Corps to support his mother, who raised him and his two brothers after their father died from complications of diabetes.
After serving in the corps for two years, Gray returned home and worked at New York Air Brake until he was drafted into the Army in February 1942. Gray served with the 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, for three years in the Pacific, including Hawaii, Australia and the Philippines, earning a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster.
After his time in the Army, Gray returned to his job at New York Air Brake, where he worked for many years until he retired as head of the company’s billing department.
To make the diploma presentation, administrators came to Gray’s home, along with this year’s graduating valedictorian and salutatorian.
“It’s nice to see how happy he was,” said Mark Derbyshire, class of 2013 salutatorian who said he plans to talk about Gray during his graduation speech. “Not many people are that excited about getting their diploma.”
“He’s college and career ready,” said Superintendent Terry Fralick with a smile. Fralick and principal Leslie Atkinson said they weren’t sure if Gray was the oldest graduate they had ever had, but said it was rare to have someone his age graduate.
"I don’t have honors like this very often," Fralick said. "I’ll remember this for the rest of my life."