|WWII Vet now a HHS grad|
|Tuesday, May 22, 2012|
It took 79 years but Harry Weston Irwin finally has a high school diploma. The Nashville kid who passed up on finishing high school to serve his country during World War II is now a graduate of Hendersonville High School.
The presentation came as quite a surprise to Irwin who thought he was going to the school to see a student art exhibit but was ambushed by family and friends there to witness the ceremony.
“I was totally shocked,” he said afterwards. “I had no clue it was going happen at all. It was a good shock.”
HHS Principal Joni Worsham heard Irwin make a presentation recently about participating in an Honor Flight to see the WWII Memorial in Washington DC and heard him mention that he dropped out of Cumberland High School in Nashville to join the Navy when he was 17 years old. Knowing that the State of Tennessee had passed a law to honor the Greatest Generation with something that many missed, a diploma, she decided to do something about it.
“I was a sophomore in school and I dropped out early in 1944,” the 85-year-old Veteran said. “We were just all anxious and patriotic. We wanted to serve our country. I wouldn’t recommend that everybody do that but what works for me may not work for someone else. There were some there younger than me.”
Weston was fitted with a cap and gown and the ceremonial graduation song Pomp and Circumstance was played at the beginning of the presentation along with the National Anthem. The “Board of Education” (Weston’s great-grandchildren) escorted him to his seat.
“We are here today to honor you, Harry Weston Irwin, and to pay homage to the service and sacrifice you made by enlisting in the armed services during World War II, specifically the United States Navy, and by doing so, sacrificing the completion of your days in high school,” Worsham said at the ceremony. “No matter how many educational degrees exist in this room collectively, all of us understand…you are educated. Your degree is in your life experience. Your ticket to the good life has been in what you and other people in your generation have done to change the world.”
Weston was stationed in California before being deployed to the South Pacific where he worked as a parachute rigger on an aircraft carrier.
“Because you sacrificed your education to make the world where we live a much better place than it otherwise would have been, we in this room have come together to show our appreciation,” Worsham said. “We are all indeed honored to be able to participate in this day and this ceremony. William Shakespeare said ‘Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.’
“You most certainly have had greatness thrust upon you but we all know you have taken that greatness and you have made a better life for all of us. Your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren, your friends and neighbors all know that you indeed have given us an education, an education in how to live life, be frugal, make lemonade out of lemons and fight the good fight.”
“In the eyes of this principal and the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and friends we have determined that the following student has attained an approved attendance, conduct and subject matter record, which covers not a 13 year program as most of today’s high school seniors, but a 79-year program since his beginning first grade as established in the records on file.
“And now long overdue, I award Navy Seaman First Class Harry Weston Irwin his diploma.”
As a fitting tribute to the Seaman, “Anchor’s Away” played to close the ceremony.
Soon after returning to the states, Weston went to work at Neuhoff Packing Company in 1946 and stayed for 31 years until they shut their doors. He worked for himself building and remodeling until he retired 15 years later. He moved to Hendersonville in 1997.
“I’m not a publicity hound and don’t seek any special recognition,” he concluded. “It wasn’t just one of us, there were millions of us who sacrificed.
By Randy Cline