84-year-old veteran walks in high school graduation

HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) – It took 64 years, but Al Steenwyk finally walked in a high school graduation ceremony on Thursday.

“It’s here. What a great, great day,” he said.

Steenwyk didn’t go to high school. Instead, he attended a two-room schoolhouse where a new Beaverdam Christian School now sits.

“The state requirement at that time was 8th grade or age 16,” said Steenwyk, who will turn 85 years old in June.

After finishing up at the little schoolhouse at age 13, Steenwyk went to work on a farm. It wasn’t until he joined the military that he got his GED. He was supposed to participate in the 1951 Hudsonville High School graduation ceremony.

But the invitation came a week late.

“So that never happened,” he said.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, Steenwyk went on to college, got married, had children and traveled the world. But there was always something that bothered him.

“I had a college degree, I had an MBA degree, but I had no high school diploma,” he said. “I just thought it would be nice to have that to complete it.”

So he asked if he could take part in Hudsonville High School’s graduation. School officials said yes.

Thursday evening, Steenwyk joined 430 Hudsonville students in their walk to the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

“Of course, the downside is my wife won’t be there to see me. Thankfully my four children will be,” he told 24 Hour News 8 before the ceremony. “A myriad, myriad of thoughts will go across my mind as I walk across (the stage to get my diploma). But I guess of them will certainly be, ‘I did it, I did it.'”

Steenwyk got a standing ovation after his named was called and he approached the stage to receive his diploma, which he then raised triumphantly in the air.

“It is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. They are the most wonderful people,” he said. “The reception they gave me was just overwhelming.”

His advice to the Class of 2015: Don’t be afraid to fail and find a job that’s a joy. Steenwyk worked until he was 81.