89-year old Albert Kelley left high school in 1948 to join the U.S. Navy before completing high school

Seventy-two years ago, Atascadero High School student Albert Kelley enlisted in the US Navy partway through his senior year and headed to Korea to defend the country, never receiving his high school diploma. Thursday afternoon, at the Atascadero Unified School District Office, Kelley, 89, finally received his diploma in a socially distanced ceremony with his family.

During his time at the high school, Kelley was a student who participated in track and field and was also in the school marching band. However, by his own admission, Kelley was a bit of a “renegade” in his younger years. This eventually pushed him toward the armed forces and serving his country.

“The State of California provides for school districts to grant high school diplomas to students who, because of their enlistment in the armed forces, were not able to complete high school and graduate with their class,” AHS Principal Dan Andrus said in the ceremony. “He did the things that qualified him for graduation and the things that make the high school experience worthwhile. Not just the academics, but the extracurriculars and being a part of the community.”

Kelley spent four years aboard the USS Princeton, working as one of the ship’s radiomen starting in 1948, just after the end of World War II, and aided the US all over the Pacific, most notably in Korea.

2020 Albert Kelley AHS Class of 1948 10
Kelley is joined by his family after receiving his diploma. (Photos by Nic Mattson)

Upon his return, Kelley lived in Long Beach and worked for Douglas Aircraft Company before returning to his hometown and opening Paso Robles Diesel Service. He owned and operated it for many years.


“We could not be more proud, Albert,” AUSD School Board President Donn Clickard said. “To stand before you, those of us representing the school district, to award this diploma to you and the importance that goes with it of being a graduate Greyhound, congratulations.”

Kelley’s sister-in-law Evelyn and her daughter Roxanne Guereña were the catalyst behind the ceremony, reaching out to the school district and Clickard to set up the joyous occasion as a surprise.

Donning a grey cap with an orange and grey gown, Kelley stood front and center as Clickard led him through the tassel’s turning, which made him an official Atascadero Greyhound graduate.

“The Class of 1948, you may move your tassels. Ladies and gentlemen, this class has graduated,” Clickard said as the room broke out into applause for the newest member of the 1948 class.

“I feel better today than I did yesterday,” said the 89-year old veteran with a smile you could see radiating through his protective mask.

The diploma might serve as an early birthday present for Kelley, who turned 90 on Monday, July 13.