It's been 51 years since Russell Leigh last took a class in high school, but this weekend marked his long awaited graduation, alongside his grandson Mike Allen.
The 67-year-old veteran from Johnsburg, N.Y., dropped out of high school at age 16 to join the U.S. Navy, but recently earned his diploma under Operation Recognition, a state program that allows certain veterans to earn high school diplomas if they left school for service before graduating.
High schoolers anxiously await graduation day, but none of the 36 other members of Johnsburg's Class of 2012 could have experienced the same anticipation as Leigh.
"A lot of waiting. A lot of years of waiting," Leigh told WTVY.
Operation Recognition allows veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War to receive a diploma if they have a high school equivalency, are a New York state resident and received a satisfactory discharge.
Leigh served three years in the Navy as a nuclear power electrician aboard submarines. He learned about the program through the high school newsletter.
"I was quite thrilled by it," Leigh told the Post Star. "I always wished I had stayed in school."
His grandson is carrying on the family's tradition of service -- he's enlisted in the U.S. Army. Allen says that graduating with his veteran grandfather was special.
"It's an opportunity that not many people get," Allen told WTVY. "And it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime things that you'll never really understand until after the fact. I think it'll start to sink in a little later on."
While this grandfather-grandson graduation was unique, Leigh isn't the only veteran to recently earn a high school diploma. Jack Fletcher, an 86-year-old World War II veteran dropped out of high school during his senior year to join the military, and was just awarded a diploma from Spur High School in Texas.
A similarly touching story took place in Brooklyn, N.Y. earlier this month, when 85-year-old World War II veteran Joseph Pinsky received his associate's degree from Kingsborough Community College.
"It was an experience," Pinsky told The Huffington Post. "Let's put it this way -- with all those youngsters, I was the only one [graduating] that was an old man."