More than 70 years after he started high school, Joe Perricone, 95, graduated Saturday as a member of the Class of 2019.
Perricone was originally in the Class of 1943 at Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Florida, according to ABC Action News, but he was drafted into the U.S. Army at 19.
Although he did finish his education, he never got to cross the stage with his peers, local NBC affiliate WFLA reported.
Instead, he was sent to basic training before fighting against Germany in Europe and traveling through France, Belgium, Denmark and the United Kingdom, ABC News reported.
“The draft board said you go and serve your country and be a big boy,” Perricone said.
After returning home in 1945, Perricone began his life with his fiancée, Hope. He had taken her handkerchief with him to keep him calm during the war.
Perricone’s grandson, Tom Palermo, a circuit court judge, reached out to the school to organize the surprise after hearing his grandfather’s story for years.
“It means a lot to us that someone we love very much will finally live out his dream,” Palermo said, according to ABC Action News.
Perricone also returned to Hillsborough High School ahead of the ceremony to receive his cap, gown and tassel. It was his first visit to the school in more than seven decades, according to ABC News.
“I never thought I’d get one of these,” he said, holding his tassel.
Perricone also shared his advice for fellow graduates: Go the extra mile.
“Whatever you decide to do, do the best you can plus 10 percent,” Perricone told Fox 13 in Tampa bay. “That 10 percent will usually get you over what you doing.”
At the ceremony, which was held at the Florida State Fairgrounds, Perricone crossed the stage first and was honored for his service.
-Updated May 29 at 10:35 a.m.