For decades, 86-year-old Floyd Edward "Ed" Hoskins watched his 11 children and 19 grandchildren walk across dozens of high school and college graduation stages.
This time, it was his turn.
Hoskins, who left Ellet High School in 1949 to join the military just before the Korean War, received an honorary diploma during the school's graduation ceremony Friday night at the Akron Civic Theatre.
"I never thought I'd see the day," said Hoskins, who now lives in Hawaii. He traveled to the mainland for a granddaughter's graduation — as well as his own.
Dressed like all the other graduates in an orange cap and gown, Hoskins sat with Jackie, his wife of 43 years. The school's principal told the crowd about their special guest, and with tears in his eyes, he climbed the stairs to the stage and walked across with two military escorts. The crowd stood in recognition and cheered, led by about 30 members of the Hoskins family who flew from around the country to witness their father, grandfather and great-grandfather finally receive his diploma.
Some didn't even know until recently he had been missing it, daughter-in-law Cynthia Allen Hoskins said.
"The whole family’s like, 'oh my gosh, this is so exciting,' " she said.
Her father-in-law is a humble man, Allen Hoskins said, not wanting for the spotlight. It was her idea to see if he qualified for the honorary diploma.
The state of Ohio allows for honorary diplomas to be granted to veterans of World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War who left high school to serve in the military. Akron Public Schools has granted seven such diplomas in the last nine years.
"It’s very nice they recognize" their service, Jackie Hoskins, said.
Hoskins served almost four years in the Army, mostly in Alaska during the Korean conflict. He had the opportunity once during his years in the military to earn his diploma, he said, but with little support to get through the material, he failed the test by 1½ points.
"So close and so far away," Hoskins said. "So then I just never bothered trying to do it anymore."
He lived in Pennsylvania before returning to Akron, but struggled to find a job because of his lack of a diploma. He worked for Goodyear for more than 40 years, raising 11 children.
When one of his sons, who is also in the military, was stationed in Hawaii, Hoskins and his wife traveled back and forth several times before making the move permanently three years ago.
During his Akron visit this month, Hoskins drove by Ellet High, which will soon be closed in favor of the new Ellet Community Learning Center. It's no matter to him — his Ellet was the building before the current one, which opened in 1950.
"It’s a lot different than it was when I went," he said. "When I went to Ellet, it was one building."
During a morning rehearsal, Hoskins had a turn at the podium to thank his fellow graduates, who chipped in to buy him his cap and gown. He also had advice for the students.
"You’re just getting started," he said, adding that they should all try to go to college.
"I can’t say it enough — you kids need more education than what I had the chance to get," Hoskins said.
Ellet Principal Michelle Marquess-Kearns said his mere presence at the ceremony was a lesson for the students.
"It’s great that the kids get to see someone returning to get their diploma after all of those years, and what that diploma must mean to him," she said. "So I think it’s a great lesson for kids that you always strive to get your diploma."
In a hallway after his march across the stage, Hoskins stared at his name on the diploma, wrapped in an orange leather binding. Tears streamed down his face.
"He deserves it," his wife said. "He's been a very good dad and a very good husband."
Contact reporter Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.