Seventy years and one letter later, Alvia Hearren Sr. finally made his way back to Benton Harbor High School to walk at graduation.
Hearren was supposed to walkwith the rest of his class on June 9, 1943. But, when presented with the opportunity to enlist in the military during WWII Hearren graduated early and received his diploma by mail.
“We had enough credits to graduate but never got to go through the graduation,” said Hearren before the ceremony, “So I got to thinking about it here some time ago that I'd like to do it.”
While in the Marine Corp. he flew in one of the planes that bombed Japan at the end of the war. After returning to the United States he fell in love, settled down and got a job as a Marine mechanic.
Even though he was hundreds, and sometimes thousands of miles away from Benton Harbor, he never forgot about the commencement celebration he never got to attend.
This year Hearren sent a letter to Benton Harbor High School principal, Kathy Brooks, explaining his longtime wish of walking the stage.
“Well the tradition at Benton Harbor High School is to walk up the ramp at Filstrup Field and if you miss that you kind of feel like you missed something,” said Brooks.
A lot has changed in the seven decades Hearren has been away.
“I don't know how it'll feel but I wanted to do it because it's really important for people to finish high school,” said Hearren.
According to the principal the school has added several new additions, “it’s a lot different than 1942 when he actually left,” she added.
Now 88-years-old and a widower, Hearren flew from North Carolina with four of his five children. He was an unlikely face among a crowd of teenagers, but in his cap and gown his face showed the same expression of pride when he was handed his diploma.
During his speech he imparted a brief snippet of wisdom for this year’s graduating class.
“I'd like to say to the students graduating this year, that the first foundation of graduating high school is the most important in life,” he told them to treat others as they would want to be treated and to be outstanding people in this age of “gadgets.”