By Kate Quesada

When Marty Sullivan received his diploma from Joe E. Newsome High School as a member of the graduating class of 2017 last month, he realized a dream that began more than 50 years ago.

Sullivan, who is 83 years old and now lives in Valrico’s Strawberry Ridge community, left high school at 17 to join the Navy. He spent two years fighting in the Korean War and then started his life without finishing high school. In the 1990s, he and his wife Alice moved to Valrico and Sullivan started volunteering at the Hillsborough County Veterans Park and the Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr. Veterans Museum. Through his volunteer work, he connected with representatives from Hillsborough County Consumer and Veterans Services who realized that he qualified to receive a high school diploma.

“Florida has a program that states that any veteran who served in the military before finishing high school is eligible to receive a full diploma, as long as they earned honorable discharge,” said Marty Ryan, Community Relations and Engagement Representative with Hillsborough County Consumer and Veterans Services. “This is a very under used program and we would love to get the word out to all veterans that they may qualify.”

After staff helped Sullivan with his paperwork to achieve the diploma, they offered him the opportunity to walk in a graduation ceremony with the Newsome Class of 2017. “Employees and students at Newsome High School enthusiastically signed on,” said Hillsborough County Media Relations Representative Michelle Van Dyke.

The 550+ students of Newsome’s class of 2017 welcomed Sullivan at their senior breakfast and graduation ceremony at the Florida State Fairgrounds on May 19.

“I think I speak for the entire Wolfpack community when I say that this is not an honor for Mr. Sullivan, but an honor for Newsome,” said Sarah Boyer, Newsome principal’s secretary. “This is definitely proof that you are never too old to get an education.”

Family members may also apply for diplomas posthumously for veterans. For information or assistance obtaining this or other military benefits available through Hillsborough County Consumer and Veterans Services, call 635-8316 or visit Newsome High School is located at 16550 FishHawk Blvd. in Lithia and can be reached at 740-4600.

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Kate Quesada
Assignment Editor Kate Quesada started working at the Osprey Observer in 2004 after graduating from the University of South Florida with a masters degree in Mass Communications. Since then, she has held various positions at the paper and has been working as the assignment editor since January 2020. She lives in Lithia with her husband Mike and sons Dylan and Max and stays active in the community on school PTA boards and volunteering with local organizations.