Surprise Diploma 65 Years Later for WWII Veteran

Decades years later, "Papa Mel" gets his high school diploma

A South Bay grandfather got the surprise of his life Tuesday afternoon at his granddaughter's high school graduation.

Mel Basuini was in the crowd to watch his granddaughter Carissa graduate from Lincoln High School in San Jose, but she turned the tables on him during a speech to the senior class. Mel never graduated because duty called in 1942, when he was drafted into World War II.

At the ceremony, Mel's son Tom brought him center stage.  Carissa and "Papa Mel" held hands as she read a moving speech about his high school days at Lincoln.

It ended with Carissa presenting her grandfather with an honorary high school diploma.

"On behalf of San Jose Unified School District and the Lincoln High class of 1944, I am more than proud to not only present, but to surprise my grandfather, my hero, Melvin Richard Basuini with an honorary high school diploma," Carissa said.

The crowd went wild.  Mel teared up, accepting the Lincoln blue cap and the document he had waited 65 years to get.

Mel had left Lincoln high as a junior, and when he returned from the front two years later, he went right to work, helping support his family. "Papa Mel" had always told his granddaughter not getting a high school diploma was one of his biggest disappointments in life.  Tuesday Carissa changed all that.

She came up with the idea, presented it to the school board and pulled off quite a surprise.

Here is her speech in its entirety:

By Carissa Basuini

I remember the very first time I walked on the Lincoln High School campus.  I had the chills, my head was spinning and I had a huge smile on my face as I made my way around the school.  This wasn’t because of the fact that I was now a part of such a unique and talented school.  I had these special feelings because I was now walking on the same pathways that my hero had walked in 1942.  
Some people find their hero’s to be famous celebrities, Nobel prizewinners, or politicians.  Throughout my life, my hero has always been the one person who never fails to make me laugh, has shown me how to never give up, and most importantly, taught me how to love to dance.  My hero has always been, and will always be my grandfather, Mel Basuini.
Papa Mel started his high school career at San Jose High and was transferred to Lincoln High School when it opened in 1942, the spring semester of his sophomore year.  Since I was a little girl, I can remember him talking about his favorite high school memories, many of them about his athletic experiences at Lincoln.
As WWII was raging, times were tough for families, including my grandfather’s.  This required him to work for his family to make whatever money he could instead of joining any of the school sports teams.  No matter how much the coaches begged my grandfather to join the teams, he stayed faithful to his family and worked countless hours after school.  However, anytime that he did not have to work, he would be out on the field with the teams practicing or playing games, including the very first Big Bone Game.  
He frequently tells me the story about the time he competed in a track race wearing jeans and work boots because he could not afford the proper uniform.  His favorite part of the story is that he beat everyone including Lincoln’s own track star.  Years after I had first heard this story, Papa Mel came to me excited because he had found his high school scrapbook.  As I opened it, I spotted an old Lion tale’s newspaper tucked inside, dated 1943.  I carefully opened the paper and found a picture of him running, wearing only his work boots and jeans.  The caption beneath it talked about how he had won the race, beating Lincoln’s track star.
Papa Mel’s high school career did not last very long.  He was drafted into WWII at the end of his junior year of high school.  When he returned home from the war two years later, he went directly to work in order to support his family, sacrificing his chance to earn a high school diploma.  He told me recently that not receiving his high school diploma is one of his biggest disappointments in life.  Today I would like to change that.
On behalf of San Jose Unified School District and the Lincoln High class of 1944, I am more than proud to not only present, but to surprise my Grandfather, my hero, Melvin Richard Basuini with an honorary High School Diploma.

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