Local veteran receives high school diploma 49 years later

Local veteran receives high school diploma 49 years later

Keven Donnell is now the proud holder of a diploma from Framingham High School nearly 50 years after he left school to serve in the U.S. Air Force. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – Keven Donnell, a Woonsocket resident, has been waiting nearly 50 years for the honor that recently arrived in the mail.

Donnell, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is now the proud holder of a diploma from Framingham High School. Donnell was 18 years old and a sophomore at Framingham South when he left school for military service during the Vietnam War.

“I went down to the Air Force recruitment office while I was on break from school,” he said. “I didn’t want to wait for the draft, I just signed up quick.”

Donnell, 68, served three years as a military police officer and an air passenger specialist. He traveled to Vietnam twice during the course of his service and saw the devastation wreaked on his fellow soldiers.

“It wasn’t a pretty sight, what I saw,” he said.

When he returned in 1971, he tried to go back to high school and graduate. At the time, Framingham school administrators told him he was too old and directed him to an equivalency program. A decade later, he received his GED certificate from an agency in Worcester, but he never stopped thinking about the high school diploma he didn’t have a chance to receive.

“They kept asking me why I wanted to go back to high school and I said, because I want to finish my education,” he said.

Finally, after years of back-and-forth with school administrators and contacting veterans’ agencies, Donnell learned of a clause in school district bylaws that said anyone who left for active military service should have been allowed to return to school when they came home. Even though it had been years since he returned, and the school he attended, Framingham South, doesn’t exist anymore – it merged with Framingham North in 1991 – he was eligible to receive a diploma.

“I’m the last in my family to get a high school diploma,” he said. “My brother and my three sisters all got their high school diploma, and I was the last one to get it.”

Many years have passed since Donnell first shipped off to military service. He and his wife now live in an apartment in Woonsocket, where the walls are lined with photos of family and friends. Donnell said he had hoped to share the achievement with his parents, but both have since died, his mother in 1990 and his father while he was serving in the Air Force.

Instead, he’ll be able to display his diploma proudly near their photos and reminders from his military time.

“I can only look at the pictures of my mother and father and say, well, I did it. I finally got my diploma,” he said.