Veteran receives high school diploma 50 years after leaving to enlist in military

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 9:16 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The Memorial Day program at Waite High School has been an honored tradition for over 100 years, and this year’s program was extra special for one decorated war Veteran.

Rudy Santibanez left Waite High School in 1971, at the age of 17, to join the Marines. However, doing so meant he never graduated from high school.

“The war was going on in Vietnam, you know at 17 I wanted to be a part of that,” said Santibanez.

After spending three years with the Marines, Santibanez left to join the Ohio National Guard.

“So I have to wait like 30 years to go to a war, you know the Iraqi campaign kicked off,” said Santibanez.

And war is exactly what he saw. He did three tours as an IED hunter in the second Iraq War where he received two purple hearts.

“My second tour was bad, I was injured twice, I was there four days in Iraq and my vehicle got blown up,” said Santibanez. “Six months later, another vehicle got blown up and I was in that vehicle.”

On May 25, a high school diploma arrived with Santibanez’s name on it.

“It was determined that he went above and beyond requirements for a high school diploma, so it’s just a great opportunity for me and the rest of us here at Waite High School to welcome him as a fellow alumni of Waite High School,” said Todd Deem, principal at Waite High School.

And his new classmates agree.

“They actually thought it was a bit funny that he’s old enough to be our grandfather, and he’s getting his diploma with us, the class of 2023, and they were actually excited,” said LaNyia Durr, a 2023 Waite High School graduate. “They couldn’t wait to be at the ceremony today.”

Now at the age of 68, looking back at the winter of 1971, Santibanez says he found his calling.

“I did what I wanted to do, you know, that was my calling,” said Santibanez. “Like I said, at 48, 50, 55-years-old, yeah that was my calling, I wanted that.”

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