Updated Monday, June 9, 2014.
High school students will likely say that the four years leading up to graduation feel like a lifetime. However, compared to Charles Frederick Waters Jr., they have nothing to complain about. Mr. Waters waited 71 years for his Edgartown High School diploma, which he received at Liberty High School in Osceola County, Florida, on May 29 of this year.
Mr. Waters, 88, grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and attended what was once the Edgartown High School. In 1943, just before his graduation ceremony, he was called to duty by the U.S. Navy. After the war, he was too busy with the rest of his life to worry about getting a diploma — preoccupied by getting married, serving in the armed forces for 25 years, raising seven children, and, most recently, retiring to Poinciana, Florida with his wife, Ruth.
Mr. Waters expressed his wish to receive his diploma to Honor Flight Network, a veterans’ advocacy organization. After some research by veterans’ advocate Cathy Haynes and the help of Martha’s Vineyard Public School (MVYPS) Superintendent James Weiss, Edgartown School Principal John Stevens, MVYPS employee Pamela Alwardt, and others who knew Mr. Waters on the Island, his wish was finally fulfilled.
According to Mr. Waters, the experience came as a shock. “Nothing was ever said to me as far as getting a diploma,” he said in a phone interview with The Times.
Mr. Waters said that, due to a well-kept secret by his friends and family, he thought he would be attending the Liberty High School graduation ceremony to give a speech as a representative of World War II veterans.
“When I came into the auditorium I was a little suspicious that there was something going on that no one was telling me, but I tried to ignore it,” he said. ”Then as I was walking toward the stage the ROTC Cadets who lined the carpet on both sides of the aisle snapped to attention and saluted as I passed by. It really floored me. I didn’t expect it, but it was terrific.”
Mr. Waters was awarded both a Class of 1943 diploma from the Edgartown School, and a Class of 2014 diploma as an honorary graduate of Liberty High School.
Mr. Waters was born and raised in Edgartown, where he attended the Edgartown School from first through 12th grade. Three of his seven children currently live on the Island — Michael Waters of Edgartown, Judy Sylvia of Oak Bluffs, and Darlene Kelly of Edgartown — as well as eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. According to Ms. Sylvia, her father returns to the Island for major events like the weddings and graduations of his children and grandchildren.
Before hanging up the phone, Mr. Waters expressed his gratitude to those involved in his long-awaited diploma receival. “I really appreciate it. It was a very high honor that I did not expect,” he said.
Correction: This story originally stated that Stephen Nixon was the Edgartown School principal. The principal of the Edgartown School is John Stevens.