Walter Ross always wanted to finish high school, and on Thursday night he'll be shuffling across a stage to celebrate his graduation — right after his grandson.
The 90-year-old was recently granted his diploma after leaving high school when he 15. The province finally credited him with the French course he never passed.
The Edmonton man has been invited to join 307 teenagers from St. Francis Xavier High School as they pull on caps and gowns and get ready for the next phase of their lives.
Ross, a spry, old-fashioned gent with hearing aids in both ears, smiles as he talks about working for 55 years as an insurance salesman, raising seven kids on his own and welcoming 24 grandchildren into the world.
He says he's slower than he used to be, so he won't be participating in the graduation march when the ceremony begins. But he will be going up on stage when his name gets called and his bare-bottomed baby picture gets blown up on the big screen.
It'll be exciting, he says.
"But I think I can keep my cool."
Ross grew up in Duffield, a hamlet about 70 kilometres west of Alberta's capital, and lived above his parents' general store.
His father had a heart attack when Ross was 15 and in Grade 10. With his two brothers in the army during the Second World War, he left school to care for his dad and look after the family business.
But his education was important to him and he spent many nights studying and completed classes through correspondence.
A few years later, after his father died, he tried again to get his diploma and received special permission from the Alberta government to write his Grade 12 exams. He crammed with tutors for six weeks and passed all the classes he needed but one: French.
"I was disappointed, of course," says Ross. "My mother was French."
Life went on and Ross married, then divorced, and became a single father. He eventually remarried and has been with his wife, Eileen, for the last 33 years.
He joined the Loyal Edmonton Regiment militia and rose through the ranks to commanding officer. He served two terms as a senator with the University of Alberta, although he never told officials there he didn't finish high school.
"Some of them even thought I was a bit smart," he says with a laugh.
Despite his accomplishments, Ross still felt dogged by that missing diploma. And at his 90th birthday party in January, he announced to a table full of family that he had a new project — completing Grade 12.
He didn't go back to school, though. A cousin helped him apply to the province and officials granted him a pass on the missing high school course, giving him credits instead for "life experience."
His diploma recently arrived in the mail and three city high schools invited him to join their commencement ceremonies. He chose the one where he knew a fellow student.
His 17-year-old grandson, Jeff Ross, still has to finish a few exams, but plans to study physics in the fall at the University of Calgary, while training full-time in the Olympic Oval speed-skating program. The teen says he jumped at the chance to share his graduation day with his grandpa.
"I just think it's awesome. My dad graduated a long time ago. This way I can share it with my grandpa and we can kind of full circle it."
The elder Ross says having his diploma doesn't mean he's going to stop learning. He's still taking French lessons, because he's no quitter.
"I've got to do it this year, 'cause next year I've got to learn to play the piano."