When a California high school’s graduating class walked across the stage to graduate last month, one student stood out from the crowd – 78-year-old Ted Sams.
The man from San Gabriel, Calif., earned his technical degree in 1962, but a few teenage hijinks and an overdue library book kept him from graduating. It’s something he always regretted.
“I never expected to be up there 60 years later,” Sams said. As it happens guest host Tom Harrington. “I actually never thought I’d be walking on that stage after I left my graduation in 1962. So that was really exciting.”
On May 27, Sams joined the class of 2022 from San Gabriel High in California at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where he finally graduated to loud applause as his daughters watched through tears.
Her story was first reported by the Pasadena Star-News.
A suspension and a late book
Sams was supposed to graduate with his own class at San Gabriel High in 1962 – but then got into trouble.
“It was the heat wave of our last year and [we were] just bored,” he said.
Five days before his graduation ceremony, Sams says he and his boyfriend were messing around during a photography class. After the deputy director caught them taking pictures of people who didn’t want their pictures taken, they were suspended – even though Sams says they didn’t have film in their cameras.
He ended up missing a final exam and a graduation day, and had to make up for it in summer school. When he finally finished the course, he went to get his diploma, but they didn’t give him his diploma until he paid the US$4.80 he owed for a library book he had. he had never returned.
“I just said, forget it, and I left,” Sams said. “And, you know, $4.80 was a lot of money back then for a working kid.”
With that kind of money, Sams says he could have taken his girlfriend to the movies and filled up with gas.
Yet he says he always felt that “a bit of [his] life was missing” because he didn’t have a degree and never had a proper graduation ceremony.
Make it happen
It’s a story he’s told his children many times over the years – until one of his daughters, Sherry Sams, decided to rectify the situation, so she called the school to track down his father’s long-lost diploma.
Toby Gilbert, spokesman for the Alhambra Unified School District, said a friendly school staff member named Veronica Molina helped track him down.
“After telling Sherry how to apply for the 1962 diploma, Veronica couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation. She remembered her own grandfather talking about wanting her high school diploma. “Gilbert said in an email.
“Veronica walked into a safe, not knowing what to look for. Hidden in the corner was a dusty box labeled ‘old diplomas’. It looked like the box had never been opened. Inside was … Sams original high school diploma from 1962. Veronica ran to tell me.
The school board decided that Sams should get the cap and gown ceremony he missed all those years ago. It was Gilbert who called the family and told them the good news.
“There were a lot of tears of joy on that call,” she said.
Sherry Sams surprised her father with the news during a video call, which she posted on YouTube.
“I’m dying to go” he says in the video as he wipes tears from his eyes and recites his high school mantra from memory.
Watch: Ted Sams learns he’s graduating:
Sherry Sams says she felt thrilled to see her dad walk across the stage. The whole stadium, she said, stopped to celebrate the moment.
“We were so happy that day,” she said. “All the graduate students with him started clapping.”
Her dad, meanwhile, says he can’t wait to frame the diploma and post it on his wall.
As for library fees? Ted Sams never paid it back – although he thought about it.
“I sat down one day to calculate interest at 3% simple interest for 60 years,” Sams said. “But I gave up after calculating until about 30 years old.”
(Use an online inflation calculator, CBC calculated that $4.80 would equal US$45.95 today, or C$57.85. Still enough for a pair of movie tickets — but maybe not a full tank of gas.)
“I was going to refund it all. But then I thought, no, they kept it for $4.80. I’m not going to refund that,” Sams said. “They never asked me either.”
Written by Aloysius Wong and Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Ted Sams directed by Aloysius Wong.