Beaming soon-to-be graduates funneled into the school's packed gymnasium as loved ones watched on, applauding. But those looking closer in that line of students could see a man who'd waited through more than 70 years of circumstances for this moment.
WXMI first met 89-year-old Milton Mockerman earlier in May. The Muskegon man doctored his own birth certificate at age 16 to enlist in the U.S. Navy in 1944 to serve during the final years of World War II.
"I was getting unruly at home and I kept telling my dad, `I`m going in the Navy,'" Mockerman told WXMI during that first meeting. “I felt it was my duty to go do what I could.”
Instead of graduating high school, he spent two years on a ship in the south Pacific.
Trading his schooling for service, Mockerman was promised he'd be able to graduate once he returned home from duty.
"No. It didn’t happen because the school burned down," Mockerman recalled with a chuckle, telling the story of how Kalkaska High School burned to the ground in 1946.
Not one to dwell, Mockerman instead spent the next seven decades getting married, starting a family, and earning a living on railroad in Muskegon.
It wasn't until this year he thought about high school again. Mockerman and his son reached out to administrators at Kalkaska High School hoping to at least get him his G.E.D.
But to their surprise, administrators offered him something better.
At the front of the line on Saturday, Mockerman walked in among the senior class of Kalkaska High to finally graduate. The school presented him with an honorary diploma.
“I found that this class is smarter than I am," Milton said as he briefly addressed the crowd. "It took me 71 years from the time I first came here, and they only took four years.”
Laughs were followed by a standing ovation.
“I was really proud of him when I saw him walk across the stage," said Logan Mockerman, Milt's great grandson, one of many relatives who traveled to see this.
“How often does one get to see their grandfather graduate—from high school nonetheless," said Milton's granddaughter, Jennifer Mockerman, who made the trip from New York.
With this accomplishment now under his belt, Milt said he was looking ahead to the next challenge.
“I’m looking for big things," he joked.
Though a ways off, turning 100, he says, is what he's eyeing next. But for now, he's taking stock of what he's already got.
"Oh boy," he said, looking toward his family gathered outside the school afterward. "I’m proud of them.”
But the pride, was all theirs.