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‘It’s Never Too Late’

Veteran Leroy S. of 270 on East receives his high school diploma from DePaul’s Executive Director/Vice President of Veterans Services Zach Fuller, along with Director of Veterans Upward Bound Amy Ortiz.

The excitement in the sun-drenched community room at 270 on East in Rochester was palpable. Surrounded by his siblings, cousins and two of his daughters, Leroy S. was presented with his high school diploma at the age of 69. It was his late father’s dream to see all ten of his children graduate from high school.

“Daddy, you know I’m over the moon for you,” said his daughter Stephanie.

Leroy was living with his daughter five years ago when she saw a news story about a Veteran receiving his diploma later in life. A Navy Veteran herself, Stephanie said, “Daddy, that could be you. It’s never too late.”

A resident of 270 on East since March 2022, Leroy served in the Army from 1976 to 1978. Suspended from school during the time of desegregation, his father gave him a choice – work or go to school.

“I got a job and never went back to school,” Leroy said.

Living at 270 on East has provided him with a safe place to live and staff have connected him with resources in the community. Leroy received his diploma through Operation Recognition, an initiative to recognize the dedication and sacrifice of Veterans who left school before graduation by awarding them a high school diploma, along with assistance from Veterans Upward Bound, a free service to prepare Veterans and military service members for colleges, universities and trade schools funded through the New York State Department of Education.

With encouragement from Stephanie, assistance from Eagle Star Housing staff, a DePaul affiliate serving Veterans, and support from Operation Recognition and Veterans Upward Bound, he finally received his diploma over fifty years later. Leroy said the experience has been a lesson in never giving up.

“In essence, it’s a sense of accomplishment, something I have always wanted to do,” he said. “Stephanie has asked me many times when I was going to get it and I want to make her proud.”

When her father called to tell her he had finally gotten his diploma, she said, “I could not stop smiling. My cheeks hurt.”

Pictured is Leroy S. receiving his high school diploma surrounded by family, as well as DePaul’s Executive Director/Vice President of Veterans Services Zach Fuller and Director of Veterans Upward Bound Amy Ortiz.

When Director of Veterans Upward Bound Amy Ortiz first met Leroy in February 2023, he mentioned that his main goal was to get his high school diploma.

“There are a lot of reasons why a Veteran might not have been able to complete high school, and we have served Veterans in the past in a similar situation, so I knew New York State had a program that could help,” she said.

It turns out that the high school Leroy attended was no longer open. Director of Finger Lakes Regional Adult Education Network (FL RAEN) Andrea Parker was able to expedite the request to get his diploma via Operation Recognition.

“Every individual has a different need when it comes to furthering their education,” said Ortiz. “For Leroy, that started with getting his diploma. I’m so thankful for Ms. Parker and her team that made that happen for him.”

After receiving congratulations, praise and some good-natured razzing from his family, Ortiz presented Leroy with a backpack emblazoned with the Veterans Upward Bound logo and filled with a tumbler, shirts, a professional portfolio, and a book about how to get good grades in college, which elicited comments of “why stop now” from his family and encouragement to further his education.

“I’m just so proud he did it, because tomorrow is never promised,” said Stephanie.

One thought on “‘It’s Never Too Late’

  1. Irina Pivtchev says:

    What a wonderful story. Congrats he did it! ❤️❤️❤️❤️

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