With joy bubbling in his voice and eyes beaming, 88-year-old Bud Simon received a high school diploma on Saturday from Bethel Park High School, showing everyone at the jam-packed commencement ceremony that it is never too late to finish unfinished business.
Mr. Simon would have graduated from high school in 1944, but he joined the Navy instead to fight in World War II. The Bethel Park School District presented him with an honorary diploma in recognition of his service to the country in a time of war.
"I feel honored," he said following the event. "I'm floating on cloud nine. I feel more important than the president of the United States. Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate all of this even when they told me I'd get a diploma. They bent over backward to make me feel important."
Rather than wear the traditional cap and gown, Mr. Simon attended the event wearing the same black Navy seaman's uniform he was issued 71 years ago when he was 17. He served on Navy warships from September 1942 to December 1945. After leaving the service, he got a job with Continental Can Co. in West Mifflin as a line worker. He worked there for 30 years before the plant shut down in the early 1980s.
In retirement, he became a top national archery official. He worked the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was in charge of the archery field at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, was archery commissioner for the 2005 Senior Olympics in Pittsburgh, and was a torch runner for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as the fabled Olympic flame passed through the Steel City.
Nancy Aloi-Rose, superintendent of Bethel Park School District, concluded her remarks to the 441 graduating seniors with a hearty congratulations to the Class of 2013 -- and 1944.
"It's such an honor today to provide him an opportunity to receive a diploma that he should have received in 1944," Ms. Aloi-Rose said. "But due to his service, he was unable to receive it. They were truly the greatest generation."
The diploma he received nearly seven decades overdue is symbolic rather than official.
Mr. Simon did not have to complete any academic coursework or take any tests. His high school diploma was granted through a program that allows school districts to present them to military veterans who did not graduate due to their service in the second world war. He only needed to fill out paperwork making the request.
Today he lives at Southwestern Retirement Center in Jefferson Hills, where he has a small one-bedroom apartment. He moved there from West Mifflin when his wife, Lois, died three years ago at age 86. His son, daughter, a sister and a granddaughter came to the graduation ceremony to celebrate with him.
Mr. Simon plans to hang the diploma on his wall and think of it as another item checked off his bucket list.
"It's one of those things where all my kids have diplomas and they graduated," he said. "I've been involved in so many things, in archery, so I figured it would be nice to add this to my little collection of achievements even though it is not going to get me a good job today. It is still nice to have."
Tim Grant: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1591.