92-Year-Old Finally Graduates High School: 'I Enjoyed Every Bit of It'

"It was wonderful," Charles Benning told ABC News today.

ByABC News
May 29, 2015, 3:43 PM
Charles Benning, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, center left, will receive his high school diploma at Yellow Springs High School in Ohio on May 28, 2015.
Charles Benning, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, center left, will receive his high school diploma at Yellow Springs High School in Ohio on May 28, 2015.
Sean Jenkins

— -- World War II veteran Charles Benning fulfilled a lifelong dream Thursday: The 92-year-old received an honorary diploma from Yellow Springs High School in Ohio.

"I was born and raised in Yellow Springs," Benning said.

But when he was 17, he was drafted to serve in World War II.

As an African-American in the U.S. military, Benning endured verbal abuse and mistreatment, his grandson Sean Jenkins told ABC News earlier this week.

"Back in the 1930s and ‘40s, for African-Americans in the U.S. military, that's another side of the story that people just don't hear -- and he tells it," Jenkins said. "Some of [the soldiers] would treat him so bad with the verbal abuse. ... He said it was horrible."

Charles Benning, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, will receive his high school diploma Thursday.

"He's achieved so much. ... Trying to do the right thing and be there for our country," Jenkins said.

Despite his military achievements, Benning had always wanted to achieve something more: his high school diploma.

"I have over a dozen certificates from the military," Benning told ABC News today. "I got the diploma to go with all the certificates that I have."

So Jenkins called the school administrators and the Board of Education who agreed to make it happen.

"To me, it's the greatest gift I can give him," Jenkins said earlier this week. "Because it's something that he's always wanted and he's always talked about."

On Thursday, as the high school's 56 seniors walked across the stage, so did 92-year-old Benning, with Jenkins by his side.

"I was right there on his arm," Jenkins told ABC News today. "I walked in with him last. He looked around and he couldn't believe the amount of people that were there. The smile on his face was absolutely priceless.

"He almost choked up a little bit," Jenkins added.

In front of a crowd of 1,000 people, Benning's name was called and the principal and senior class stood up to recognize him.

"They called his name and he got up and walked over and finally got his diploma," Jenkins said. "And he looked out into the crowd, gave the biggest grin you could ever see on a human being's face.

"It was just a magical moment," Jenkins added.

Charles Benning with his wife of over 60 years, Ernestine Benning.

"It was wonderful," Benning told ABC News. "I was very happy. I enjoyed every bit of it."

Added Ernestine Benning, his wife of over 60 years: "It was great. It was a wonderful experience."

Yellow Springs High School Principal Tim Krier told ABC News today, "A 92-year-old man in a cap and gown is a sight everybody should see. Our students, staff and families found it to be a tremendous honor for him to share part of his legacy on an incredibly important night.

"We were just delighted we could celebrate a Yellow Springs native for his contributions as an African-American in World War II and for our collective history and freedom as a village," Krier said.

"He was gracious and humble," Krier added. "He brought even more honor to our ceremony."

Yellow Springs Board of Education Member Sean Creighton told ABC News today the board was "honored to give the diploma to Mr. Benning," not only because of Benning's "tremendous service to our country," but "especially because it was such a dream of his to get that diploma. It really meant a lot to everybody in the entire community here in Yellow Springs."

Creighton said when the matter was brought to the Board of Education for approval, "There was no hesitation whatsoever."

"We were more than excited to be able to do this for him," Creighton said.