JOHNSBURG -- Russell Leigh will be among the 37 people to don a cap and gown at Saturday’s high school graduation ceremony at Johnsburg.
Leigh is 67. He dropped out of high school in 1961, at age 16, to join the U.S. Navy.
When he takes the stage at the commencement, he will be alongside his grandson, Mike Allen, who is also graduating and has enlisted with the U.S. Army.
“I’m quite excited about doing it, but I’m a little nervous,” Leigh said.
Leigh, a Johnsburg native and retired electrician, will obtain a high school diploma based on knowledge and experience he gained from the military.
State law requires the commissioner of education to create a program for veterans of the military to obtain a high school diploma.
Called Operation Recognition, the program applies to veterans who were unable to finish high school and went on to serve with the armed forces during World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War.
Candidates pay no fee for a diploma, but must provide the school district with discharge papers or other documents that prove their service with the military.
They are eligible for the program if they possess a high school equivalency diploma.
In July 2011, the program was suspended because schools were no longer allowed to issue a local diploma. In February, an amendment to the law was written to allow high schools to issue the diploma to qualifying veterans. It became effective last month.
Leigh learned about the law when he read the school’s newsletter.
“I was quite thrilled by it,” he said. “I always wished I had stayed in school.”
Leigh spent more than three years in the Navy. He was a nuclear power electrician who maintained submarines.
After the military, he worked as a construction electrician and was later hired at the New York Olympic Regional Development Authority.
Michael Markwica, school superintendent, said this is the first time in his career at Johnsburg that he’s seen an adult take part in the graduation.
“This is the first time since I’ve been superintendent, and I’ve been here 16 years,” he said.