[Return to Home Page] [Subscriptions] [Newsstands] [Contact Us] [Archives]

Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, May 25, 2006

Let us use our travel passes wisely on the road of life

Michael McKinley recently had surgery to remove shrapnel from his spine. He got it during combat in Vietnam.

"They just got the last piece of metal out of me," he said on Tuesday night. He still needs surgery to fix his lower back.

He wasn’t complaining, though. He was celebrating.

On Tuesday night, the Guilderland School District awarded McKinley and two others high school diplomas as part of New York’s Operation Recognition.

The State Legislature set up the program in 2000 for World War II veterans who dropped out of school to serve their country. It was then expanded to include veterans of the Korean conflict, and, this year, of the Vietnam War.

On Tuesday at Guilderland High School, a brass quartet played the national anthem; the superintendent praised the veterans’ courage, spirit, and acts of heroism; and the high school principal, Michael Piccirillo, a Rotarian, said the men had placed the needs of others before their own and had deferred their own dreams for the American Dream.

Leander Wood, who served in the Army during the Korean conflict, from 1952 to 1954, was awarded his diploma posthumously. His three daughters and his wife were on hand at the ceremony. Superintendent Gregory Aidala said that Wood had recognized the importance of education and encouraged his four children to do their best in school.

Lewis Ferrara, who now lives in Knox, lived in New York City in 1968 when his draft deferment was pulled. He had failed an American history exam, he said, and needed to go to summer school in order to graduate. He never got that opportunity.

Although he scored high enough for an associate’s degree, according to military tests, he said, it was never transcribed on his record.

Ferrara served with the Marines in the Philippines, he said, and eventually became a cook. He felt he had to lie about his education in order to get a job, he said.

"I put it behind me and got on with my life," said Ferrara.

When he saw a notice in The Enterprise about Operation Recognition, he jumped at the chance to get a diploma at last.

For McKinley, military service was a family tradition. He enlisted in the Marines when he was a Cohoes High School student. He had brothers who served in the Navy, Air Force, and Army, and a father who was in the Merchant Marines.

Asked about his two years in Vietnam, McKinley said, "There are things I can’t speak of."

He was eager, though, to speak about his family and his pride in their education. His wife is a Guilderland High School graduate. "I met her on a Monday and married her the following Saturday," he said.

All four of their children went to Guilderland High School. "And they all graduated," said McKinley.

His second-oldest son has followed his brother and just graduated from Hudson Valley Community College.

Now that he has his high school diploma, McKinley is thinking of attending Hudson Valley himself. After years of working at the Watervliet arsenal, he may start on a new career at age 52 and study mechanics.

Piccirillo said during the ceremony that a high school diploma symbolizes the freedom to learn. For Ferrara, it may mean not having to look over his shoulder or feel like he was living a lie. For Wood’s family, it may mean honoring the memory of a beloved husband and father with something he valued. For McKinley, it may mean a door is opening to a new field of study.

We’re pleased that Guilderland hosts such a ceremony to confer these diplomas each year with the flourish their recipients deserve. It gives us all a chance to pause and reflect.

"Diploma" comes from the Latin for "letter of introduction." A diploma would serve as a travel pass in ancient Rome on the imperial post.

The learning is a journey in itself, though. We’ve written in this week’s edition about several learning experiences at Guilderland that show the range of travel students are undertaking.

Scores of young poets at the middle school shared their words with an enthusiastic crowd last Thursday.

Sixth-grader Cameron Dobbs read rhythmic lines about a game he loves — basketball — while Sarah Khaliai was inspired to write about the beauty behind the burka. "She makes me cry," said her mother. "She writes with such emotion."

High school freshman Zagreb Mukerjee wrote a paper about Mahatma Gandhi that won first place in a state competition and he will now compete nationally. In carefully researching Gandhi’s early life — including a talk with Gandhi’s granddaughter — Mukerjee made an important discovery: "Great people are not born. Instead, they are molded by the experiences of their lives."

Finally, we wrote this week about James E. Miller, another student at the high school, who each day lived a lesson that he shared with others. He died on Sunday of the same disease that had taken his older brother.

"He knew he would die young," said Karen Mattice, his educational assistant for three years, "so he lived every single moment of every day to the fullest. He taught me not to wait till tomorrow to say that extra kind word to someone; it might not come.....

"James was the teacher who educated us on life and the meaning of living it for today."

— Melissa Hale-Spencer, editor

[Return to Home Page]