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After a 59-year wait, student earns diploma

POULSBO — The graduation ceremony held at North Kitsap High School on Monday was a little different than most. The small event was held in the front office. The principal wore a track suit instead of a robe, and the lone graduate had spent 40 years in the sheet-metal business.

But the diploma was all the same and that was the important thing to Willaford Hart.

Hart, 76, left North Kitsap High School — the old one — in 1943 to enlist in the Navy.

“It was a time in my life when it was the right thing to do at the right time,” he said. “But if I had had more counseling, I may not have enlisted.”

After spending four years there, most of them on a tanker in the South Pacific, he was discharged at the age of 21.

Hart then bounced around Poulsbo for a while.

“Poulsbo was a different place then,” he said Monday. “There weren’t many opportunities. In fact, you can say there were none.”

Hart, an orphan, attended a trade school in Chicago, tried Poulsbo again, and ended up in Oregon, where he became a sheet-metal worker and remained one for the next 40 years.

Every once in a while Hart would think of the diploma he didn’t have.

“I always wanted to graduate,” he said. “All my kids did, and I was the only one in the family without a diploma.”

But because he was 21 when discharged, and started work almost immediately, Hart couldn’t go back to school.

Earlier this year, he read a story in The Oregonian about students who had left high school to enlist in the military, just like he had, and were given their diplomas by Oregon schools.

“I thought I’d come up here and give it a shot,” said Hart, who now has relatives in the area.”

So, on Monday, principal Dave Andersen — taking a break from the busy registration process — gave Hart an honorary diploma.

Andersen said he believed it was the first time such a diploma has been given in the district.

The diploma was the real thing, right down to the official signatures and the special folding case to hold it.

“We’re proud of you that, at 76, you wanted to come back and get your diploma,” Andersen told Hart.

“I feel proud,” he replied. “Very proud. It means a lot. I always wanted to graduate from North Kitsap High School — believe it or not.”

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