As the newly graduated class of 2017 looks towards the future and all the possibilities that it holds, Hamilton High School in Chandler is helping six Valley veterans make up for lost times.
This year, the high school is giving the veterans honorary diplomas.
Among the group is Rex Selnes, a former corporal with the United States Marines 3rd Division and a Vietnam veteran. During his senior year of high school, Seles got in some trouble and got parental permission to join the service when he was 17 years old. He went to boot camp in southern California and was deployed to the front lines in Vietnam soon after that.
“I was a form kid and suddenly ended up in the bush, bullets flying by…yeah, it was scary,” Selnes said.
Like many of those who served in Vietnam, Rex remains tight-lipped about his time overseas. However, he does real a final mission where his unit got pinned down on a hill for three days by an enemy.
“It doubled back, touched down and the door came down…,” Selnes said. “There were 33 of us who made it off that hill alive.”
When the war ended he returned to the Midwest where he met his wife, Judy. They decided to go to college together — despite not having a high school diploma.
“He made me a deal. If I could get a 3.2 GPA for the quarter I could stay and continue but if I didn’t I’d have to drop out. So I went and registered and ended up with a 3.8,” he said.
Selnes decided to go into teaching and moved his family to Arizona after graduation where he was eventually hired in the Mesa School District before retiring after 18-years on the job.
He never looked back on high school until his granddaughter, Jessica Wong, learned at her brother’s graduation that their school, Hamilton High, had a tradition of giving veterans honorary diplomas.
“He said ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I graduated with you?’ And I said ‘Yeah, it would!’ That’s when I knew he should graduate with me,” Wong said.
Donning her own cap and gown, Jessica stepped on to the stage during Hamilton’s commencement and before receiving her own diploma she had the honor of presenting her grandfather with his as the crowd cheered and rose to a standing ovation for all six graduating veterans.
Hamilton High has been honoring the men and women who missed out on their own high school commencements because of their time in service for the past 16-years and plan to keep the tradition going as long as veterans continue to reach out to them.
To date, more than 180 Hamilton students have gone on to join the service after graduation.