Military veteran gets honorary diploma
Fifty years after dropping out of Alvin High School to join the Navy during the Vietnam War, Gary Epley has received his high school diploma.
Epley was born in Corpus Christi, but he spent most of his adolescence in Alvin, where he attended high school. When he decided to join the Navy, he was only a few credits short of graduation. Epley served in the military until March 14, 1970, when he was honorably discharged.
After his return to the United States, Epley used his military experience to acquire a civil service job at Audie Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital in San Antonio.
“Times were tough for me back in those days because a lot of doors closed to you economically, and opportunities were limited if you didn’t have a high school diploma,” Epley said. “It was a tremendous hardship on me to land a good job.”
Earlier this year, he read about a Texas law that allows some veterans to receive honorary diplomas as a reward for their service to the country.
He decided to go through the application process, and before too long he found out that he had been accepted. Half a century after leaving school, he would receive his high school diploma.
His ceremony was held at a school board meeting in front of a standing-room-only audience of board members, students and community members.
“They were extremely courteous to me,” Epley said. “They put on a special program just for my honor, and they had a military honor guard. I didn’t actually know all of that was going to come about.”
When he was given the diploma, Epley had the opportunity to address the crowd, and he told them about some of his experiences and the importance of finishing high school.
“Your opportunities are extremely limited if you ever quit high school. I know firsthand what that’s like,” he said. “I tried to say some words of encouragement to students who are frustrated with high school or maybe not doing so well.
“I guess you could say I’m a survivor,” Epley said. “But I enjoyed my military career, and I’ve enjoyed my connection to Alvin High School.”
Chris Marshall is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.ABOUT Gary Epley AGE: 69 OCCUPATION: Retired COMMUNITY CONNECTION: Attended Alvin High School FAST FACT: Enjoys fishing and studying archaeology
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