OREM — A Provo man can now add high school graduation to his list of accomplishments, 70 years after dropping out to join the Navy.
Jackson Howard, an 86-year-old father of six, received a standing ovation from fellow Provo High School graduates and audience members Wednesday as he walked across the stage at the UCCU Events Center, his diploma in hand.
Howard dropped out of high school in November 1943, just six months shy of graduation.
“The war was on — the big one,” he said. “So young men had to go when they were 18.”
After passing an academy test and an interview process, Howard was sent to a U.S. Navy Reserve officer training course at the University of Texas.
“We learned to salute, shine our shoes and say yes sir, no sir,” he said, “and do all the things that sailors have to do.”
At 19, Howard graduated from the program with a bachelor's degree and was commissioned an ensign in the Navy in June 1946. Not long after that, he married his high school sweetheart, Gloria Russell.
After serving in the Navy, Howard said he was released on active duty, given the rank of captain and decided to go to law school.
He received a master's degree from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and later earned a doctorate of law. At age 23, Howard passed the bar and remained in the Navy Reserve for 30 years.
Howard said he was invited to attend the graduation ceremony and receive his diploma after he let it slip he never participated in his 1943 ceremonies.
“I suppose I let it be known that I’m a high school dropout,” he said.
Helen Patterson, Provo High's college and career coordinator, invited Howard to participate in this year’s ceremony. She said his message is one of hope.
“The message is you can serve, but you can continue to go on and do things,” Patterson said.
Andrew Howard, Jackson's son, said he was happy to see his father receive his diploma.
“It’s nice to finally put a bow on it, isn’t it?” he said.
Carson Strachan, Howard's grandson, described his grandfather and his education as a blessing, having helped many of his children and grandchildren get through school.
“It’s funny," he said. "He always encouraged education, and he didn’t even have his diploma."
Howard has been involved with Provo High School for many years, giving the $1,000 Howard/McAdam Award since 1955 to a student for outstanding achievement in academics and athletics.
Provo High Principal Jeff Schoonover recognized Howard, who received a second standing ovation, as an honorary graduate during the ceremony.
Schoonover expressed his gratitude toward Howard for helping students in college through the Howard/McAdam Award.
“There are amazing students who’ve benefited because of his graciousness,” he said.
Lorraine Adams, a mathematics teacher at Provo High, said it was obvious Howard's diploma was as important to him. She said the students showed respect for what he did as a person and for his career.
"To see students applaud him in a standing ovation twice is amazing," Adams said.
Howard credits his academic ability to his teachers at Provo High and his parents, who always encouraged him to pursue an education.
As a first generation college student, he encouraged students who have dropped out to go back and get their GED certificiate and pursue their education.
“Education is the answer to the future,” Howard said. “It’s never too late."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company