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Vet dons cap and gown after 40 years

Doug Vinnes in 1969 and 2009.

By Laurel Morales

Flagstaff, AZ – Many seniors graduated last Friday at Northern Arizona University including one senior citizen. After four decades Doug Vinnes returned to campus to make his graduation official. Arizona Public Radio's Laurel Morales has the story.

Doug Vinnes has always felt like something in his life was missing. The 62-year-old Army veteran completed his degree at NAU in 1969. But he was drafted weeks before graduation. When his diploma arrived at his parents' house in Iowa, Vinnes was going through basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington.

"And they called me and said we have your degree here and I said, oh read it to me.' I want to know what it says and I made them read it to me over the phone. That made me feel good."

But it wasn't enough. He still wanted to go through the ceremony.

"I always looked forward to going to commencement that was finality," he said. "It's just a ceremony but it's something official that I always looked forward to. I didn't think it was ever possible to go back it just wasn't in the script."

What was in the script - two years serving in the Army at Fort Bliss, working as a travel consultant for American Airlines and teaching elementary school in Dallas. Until one day when he read in a Dallas newspaper about a Vietnam veteran who had gone back to get his high school diploma

"And I thought, wow if they can do that why can't I go back to my commencement?' That's what started it all."

Last week Vinnes drove to NAU from his home in Dallas. And he almost didn't make it again. This time because of the blizzard.

Since the moment he set foot on campus he says it has felt surreal.

"Coming back here it's like I'm living a dream," Vinnes said. "I don't believe I'm here. It's funny the teachers I had are now buildings they're named after the teachers I had!"

He revisited his first dormitory Old Main, now administrative offices.

"The ceilings were just as high as this so it was scary. Wow! This is scary."

After a couple days of reminiscing he's ready for graduation day. He files into the NAU Sky Dome in cap and gown with the hundreds of other education majors. Vinnes is maybe a little grayer and little wiser but otherwise just as eager if not more so to hear his name called.

Speeches are given talking about the future.

And finally after 40 years

" Doug N. Vinnes..."

Vinnes walks proudly across the stage and shakes hands with the officials. About an hour later when the ceremony is complete Vinnes is still beaming.

"It feels great! It feels great to be part of the ceremony after all these years."

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.