Better Late Than Never
Thousands of would-be high school graduates have been granted their diplomas late, more than 50 years after World War II forced young soldiers to abandon their studies for military service.
Operation Recognition, a program started two years ago in Massachusetts that has spread to more than 30 other states, was initiated as a “small overdue gesture of our society’s gratitude for the sacrifice these individuals made in the name of freedom,” according to Robert C. McKean, the director of the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemeteries and the founder of the program.
After attending a school program honoring local veterans near his hometown of Gardner, Mass., several years ago, Mr. McKean vowed to help veterans who had dropped out of school get their rightful awards. He lobbied nearly 200 school boards throughout his state and then education officials throughout the country.
“This is more than graduation,” Mr. McKean said. “This is recognizing them for what they gave up, not just the diploma, but the fun aspects of high school.”
More than 7,000 diplomas have been issued to veterans in Massachusetts, and to an unknown number of others elsewhere. Many districts, at Mr. McKean’s urging, have been holding separate graduation ceremonies—generally on Veterans Day or Memorial Day—for those who left high school between 1940 and 1946 to serve in the war.
Some districts have gone a step further and hosted a truly “senior” prom, often with a 1940s theme and complete with original trophies and photographs from the era.
Many schools have used the program to benefit current students as well, Mr. McKean said. The veterans have been asked to share their experiences and provide first-person accounts of the war, giving students a view of history not found in textbooks.
For more information on the program, call Mr. McKean at (413) 821- 9500, or by e-mail at RmcKean@vet.state.ma.us.
— Kathleen Kennedy Manzo