Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, returned to Auburn, Calif., on Saturday to pick up a slip of paper that eluded him 40 years ago _ his high school diploma. The beaming, 58-year-old congressman from Colorado, one of 262 graduates in Placer High School's class of 1991, received the coveted certificate from Principal Tom Spencer.
Spencer joked that the diploma should be withheld because "he needs to serve 603 hours of detention for the six months of classes he missed."
Campbell, who's part Northern Cheyenne Indian, abruptly left Placer High in December 1951, six months before the end of his senior year, to enlist in the Air Force. During his military service he completed the academic requirements for a General Education Degree, but he never got the official diploma.
The three-term Democrat said he left school because "of my dysfunctional family situation, my father's alcoholism and my mother's problems. The military seemed like a good move.
"I always felt a little uncomfortable for not having the diploma. I guess there's sort of a stigma attached to being a dropout," Campbell said. "People heard that I'm doing this, and I got lots of letters from them saying, "I wish I'd done that. I'm sorry I dropped out, but now I want to get my diploma.' "
More than 2,500 parents, friends and relatives of the graduates sat patiently through the 90-minute outdoor ceremony as the ebullient Campbell delivered the commencement address.
He urged the graduates to observe "hard work and dedication" and to believe in "truth over technology" to realize their dreams.