WWII veteran receives diploma 55 years later

Fri, 2012-07-20 10:08 -- univcomm

  Date:  10/19/2000

  Title:  WWII veteran receives diploma 55 years later

Roy Davis, an Anderson architect, thought he'd just be blowing out candles for his 83rd birthday. Little did he know he'd be unwrapping a gift he earned more than a half-century ago -- his college diploma. "Thank you, oh, thank you," he said with a giggle while Arthur Leak, the Anderson University registrar, presented him with the surprise package. "I never expected anything like this. I thought I was just coming out for supper and cake." Leak put on his suit and tie and made a special trip to hand deliver the diploma Davis earned in 1945.

Before a small circle of family members, Leak gave a short speech and presented the golden piece of paper, along with a few other ceremonial essentials.

"My staff felt it was appropriate you wear that," he said while placing a cap atop Davis' head. A gold honors cord was also draped around the graduate's neck, which is typically only awarded to students with exceptional grade point averages.
"This is to let you know how much we appreciate what you did for this country," Leak said, noting that it was an actual diploma, not an honorary degree.

In 1938, Davis started at AU. Four years later -- and one class shy of graduating with a psychology and history degree -- he was called to serve in World War II. In 1942, he left for the Air Force and served in England and France for three-and-a-half years.

But he wasn't about to leave his scholarly work unfinished.

When he returned to Anderson in 1945, he took the single literature course he needed to fulfill his graduation requirements, and thought he was home free. Unfortunately, he missed the final hoop -- the commencement ceremony.

"They called me at 5 p.m. and told me I was graduating at 7 p.m. I missed that because I was working," he said.

Those days, many universities had a no-show policy. If you didn't attend the commencement ceremony, you didn't get your diploma. "Fortunately, we don't do that anymore," Leak said.

Nonetheless, Leak said he had to cut through a lot of red tape to get Davis his diploma, especially considering the curriculum changed a thousand times over in the past 55 years. He started doing the research after Mary K., Davis' daughter-in-law, called him in July inquiring about what it would take to get him the diploma.
"It took quite a few man-hours to interpret all of this," he said. "A couple of weeks ago, I was finally able to put all the pieces together."
In addition to being a veteran, Davis is also the only one of eight children who earned a college degree.

"And we had a hard time getting him through," said Roy's 74-year-old brother, Norman, with a laugh.

Mary K. said it always seemed to bother Davis that he didn't have that official piece of paper. She was glad he finally received what he had worked so hard to earn. "I'm a teacher, so education and diplomas are very important to me," she said. "I think it's something he's proud of. I know his kids are proud of him."

---Jenna McKnight is a staff writer for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.