Thanks to one military program, the age gap between grandfather and grandson was greatly diminished recently when Vietnam veteran Rusty Leigh walked across the stage with grandson Michael Allen at their high school graduation.
Though the two were born 50 years apart, Allen said it was an awesome experience that he wouldn’t have traded for the world.
“It made me feel ecstatic,” Allen said. “I thought it was absolutely awesome that I got to graduate with my grandfather. Not many people get to do that,” he said.”
Allen explained that the state program that had originally only allowed World War II vets to get their diplomas if they showed they had the “necessary life skills” soon opened the initiative up to Korean War vets, then soon after Vietnam vets, which is when Leigh decided he wanted to do it.
“It’s a good program because a lot of fellas quit school and went into service, and they’ve taken GED tests and stuff like that but never got New York state and local diplomas from their hometowns … and now they can,” he said.
As for how walking across that stage after all this time, Leigh said it was the feeling of a lifetime.
“It was great,” he said. “My friends have been calling me from all over the country saying, ‘Congratulations!’ … Even people in Canada are calling me!”
Michael will also follow in his grandfather’s, as well as his own father’s, footsteps by serving in the military.
“It’s a little bit because of family, but it’s also a pride thing,” Allen said. “It’s really good to do … it made me feel good that I’ll be able to do something bigger with my life.”