By Emily Drooby
In Joseph Quinlivan’s Brooklyn home sits a plaque that reads, ‘Freedom is Not Free,’ something the World War II veteran understands well.
At just 16 years old, Joe left high school to help his family get through the great depression. Two years later, in 1944, he enlisted in the Navy.
“It’s a great country, and you should serve it. Where I lived, everybody, everybody went into the service,” Joe said.
“There were a couple air raids, but the planes got stopped before they reached where we were,” he remembered of his time being stationed in the Pacific.
During the two years he spent fighting for his country, Joe was awarded many medals for bravery.
In that time, there’s one recognition he had never received: a high school diploma.
“My father worked very hard his whole life, he worked any overtime he could get to provide us with what he needed, and it was hard for him because he didn’t have those degrees,” said Joe’s daughter, Margaret Quinlivan.
That is, until now.
Margaret and her family surprised now 93-year-old Joe in a very special way this past Father’s Day.
“We just put the cap and gown on him. He didn’t know why and then my brother presented him with the diploma and read it, and he was very happy. And his first comment was, ‘Well maybe I can get another job now that I have a high school diploma’” she said.
The family used a national program called Operation Recognition, which allows World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans to earn high school diplomas if they left school without graduating.
Margaret said it was pretty easy to complete the process, and based on Joe’s reaction, one that was well worth it.
“I was surprised,” said Joe, “and I was glad. So it was nice, you know?”
Education and the Catholic faith have always been pillars of the Quinlivan family. Several of Joe’s kids even became Catholic school teachers, making the honor even more special.
“Looking at his diploma he just kept saying he never through he would graduate high school and it was just a nice moment for him, because he made sure all of us graduated high school and he wanted all of us to go onto college, and to have an easier and better life,” said Margaret.
In cap and gown, Joe shows that you’re never too old to receive your high school diploma.