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Vietnam veteran fulfills goal of graduating high school at Commonwealth Charter Academy after dropping out

77-year-old Vietnam vet graduates high school years after dropping out to go to war
77-year-old Vietnam vet graduates high school years after dropping out to go to war 01:57

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A 77-year-old Vietnam veteran graduated Tuesday with the Commonwealth Charter Academy's class of 2024.

The year was 1965, the United States was 10 years into the Vietnam War and 17-year-old Robert Toporek dropped out of high school in Charleston, South Carolina, to join the Army. 

In the heat of the combat zone, Toporek still managed to pass his GED test. Unbeknownst to him, his certificate was never finalized.

"For 59 years, I thought I had my GED, but I found the paperwork recently and I read the back of it and they said: 'This is not your GED. This is just verification that you passed the test. You have to get your GED from your State Department of Education,'" Toporek said. 

On Tuesday night, at 77 years old, Toporek finally achieved that long-awaited goal.

With his cap and gown in place, Toporek walked through the Liacouras Center tunnel and received his diploma from the Commonwealth Charter Academy alongside hundreds of significantly younger, nonetheless fellow graduates.

Despite earning the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his bravery in Vietnam, writing two books and being an early childhood education expert, Toporek said he's missed many opportunities because he didn't have a high school diploma.

"There's more to do and this degree will help me do that," he said. 

As he delivered a speech to the class of 2024, Toporek used his own journey to graduation as a teachable moment. 

"Never let your failures stop you from following your dreams," Torporek said. "If I hadn't followed my dream, I wouldn't be here today talking to you." 

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