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Veteran, 78, Granted Honorary High School Diploma

He missed out on graduating from Watsonville High six decades ago, but wore his mortar board proudly Friday.

Joseph Robert “J.R.” Blinkenberg is now a legitimate member of the Watsonville High Class of 1951. He's also a part of the Class of 2012.

Blinkenberg, now a 78-year-old Soquel resident, didn't finish his classes at Watsonville High School 61 years ago. It's something he's always wished he'd done.

After serving in the military, Blinkenberg had a long career with Southern Pacific Railroad. Watsonville High School Principal Elaine Legorreta came to know him through softball—her daughters played and he has been a big supporter of the Soquel High team—and heard the story about his un-achieved dream.

Granting him a diploma was the right thing to do, Legorreta said, "when someone has had such an exceptional life, worked really hard."

Legorreta said Blinkenberg's story "it just told me how much he really wanted it, how much he regretted it."

So Friday, she bestowed Blinkenberg with his long-awaited high school diploma, albeit an honorary one. Blinkenberg sat on the stage at Geiser Field, dressed in a black cap and gown, alongside the Watsonville High seniors receiving high honors.

"I feel, at last, like I'm a legitimate member of my own Class of '51, as well as 2012," Blinkenberg said.

Blinkenberg, who attends class reunions religiously despite his lack of a diploma, offered a bit of advice to the teenagers graduating Friday: take advantage of those opportunities to maintain and deepen the bond with your classmates.

"One of the greatest things I've enjoyed over all these years are the class reunions," he said. 

Read more about Blinkenberg's story in this article from the Santa Cruz Sentinel .

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