Army veteran gets diploma 48 years later

Bowler High graduates 11 at commencement
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Confetti flies through the air Friday after the confirmation that the Class of 2019 had graduated from Bowler High School.

Most of the 11 members of Bowler High School’s graduating class are ready to get out into the world and experience life, but one of those members flipped the script 48 years ago and did things a little differently.

Daryl Waukau was a senior in Bowler in 1971 when he joined the United States Army, a time when America was still fighting in Vietnam. After 20 years of service and living more life in the private sector, Waukau returned to his old stomping grounds Friday to accept his high school diploma.

Bowler’s Class of 2019 might be low in numbers, according to district Superintendent Randy Riefsland, but they are big in personality.

“One of our graduates, after taking a rather lengthy hiatus at Bowler, has come back to us to accept his diploma tonight,” Riefsland said.

Waukau admitted to being a little nervous as he took the stage to speak, but he said he was glad to be back at Bowler High School.

“For all the young people graduating, tonight I want to say that the greatest education of my life is experience,” Waukau said. “All of the mistakes we make in life teaches of us something — what not to repeat or to ask ourselves, ‘What did I learn from this?’”

Waukau told the graduates that the education they’ve received for over a decade has laid the foundation for continued learning later in life.

“It is the basis for higher education,” Waukau said. “Use these skills to the best of your ability. Don’t take any of it for granted. Trust yourself; have faith in yourself. Don’t let setbacks deter you.”

As for receiving his diploma 48 years later, he said that “it’s an honor” to have the school invite him back to receive it.

Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal President Shannon Holsey, the main commencement speaker, was a familiar face at Bowler High’s hallowed halls, having graduated from the school herself in 1988. Holsey encouraged the graduates to constantly learn, and not expect their whole education to come from a textbook.

“I’m actually almost embarrassed at the life of enrichment that my education has afforded me,” Holsey said. “The education I’ve received has given me the confidence and the life that I’ve always hoped for. I’ve found the best education I’ve received didn’t necessarily come from a classroom or a university. It actually came through valuable lessons I’ve learned from my parents, my grandparents, my family, and among those is hard work, humility, good stewardship and generosity.”

Holsey added that, even though the graduates are moving on to other things in other places, they will always be a part of the Bowler community.

Valedictorian Noah Bestul was quick to note the small graduating class this year in his commencement address.

“We can say, without a doubt, that we graduated in the top 10 of our class,” Bestul said. “We’ll just have to leave out the part that there was only 10 of us (in the class for the last four years).”

Bestul noted that he was expected in his family to follow in the footsteps of his two older brothers and become a member of the military, but now he is planning to become an agriculture teacher.

Bestul also carved out a portion of his address to talk about the Arrive Alive day-long program held recently at Tigerton High School and the importance of avoiding distractions while driving, especially texting. He said the experience helped him to focus on the upcoming graduation.

“Having my life flash before my eyes, I had some great memories and some that were not so great,” Bestul said. “I’ve learned so much inside the classroom and outside the classroom.”

Salutatorian Jada Waters told the audience that when Charles Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he had high school life in mind.

“Each of us have faced challenges in the last four years that have helped us to grow as people,” Waters said. “Our high school experience has brought this small group of people together in a way that only we can understand.”