June 30, 2008

War Vet Walks Back in Time ; Class of 1945 Grad Joins Final Seneca Graduation

By Andrew Rafferty

William McCullough had some unfinished business to take care of before Seneca Vocational High School completed its final commencement on Sunday.

The Class of 1945 graduate had to participate in the commencement ceremony.

After three years attending Seneca, McCullough left the East Side school in 1944 to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the South Pacific during World War II. He continued taking classes in the service and attended night classes when he returned home.

Once McCullough had earned enough credits to graduate, his father picked up his diploma for him because he had already left for Tuskegee University in Alabama.

So McCullough, who now lives outside of Dallas, flew back to do something he never had the chance to do: put on a cap and gown and walk in a high school graduation.

"I never walked across the stage," McCullough said. "That always left me feeling like I had missed something."

Blending in with the 60 graduates of Seneca's Class of 2008 was his last shot to fill that void. Next year, the school will become Math, Science and Technology Preparatory School at Seneca for sixth through 10th grades.

Seneca's 99th and final graduation was one that many will remember.

The event was scheduled to be held under a tent behind the school, but as friends and family began piling in, it became clear that only the early birds would get seats.

With "Pomp and Circumstance" playing in the background, the graduates were met with a downpour as they made their way from inside the school to their seats under the tent.

But most graduates arrived to find they didn't have seats because visitors had unknowingly claimed them as their own. Pleas from school officials for cooperation were met with chants to "Go inside" from those huddled together under the tent.

So, 75 minutes after its scheduled start time, the commencement began in the school's auditorium.

But the rain delay did not seem to dampen spirits. Eager family and friends yelled and cheered as the graduates were awarded diplomas and scholarships.

Keynote speaker H. McCarthy Gipson, Buffalo's police commissioner, used the seating fiasco to exemplify the importance of the graduates' ability to adapt to change.

"If there's anything indicative of change, it's how this program started today," Gipson joked.

He told the graduates that being able to adapt to change is what will make them successful.

He began his commencement address with a brief summary of the 99- year-old school's history. Among Seneca's various claims to fame, it served as an experimental testing ground for advances in radio. During World War II, soldiers were sent to the high school to be trained on radio use.

"Now, only a couple months shy of its 100th anniversary, they're going to shut it down," Gipson said.

The police commissioner urged the graduates to view the closing as a lesson that nothing in life will ever stay the same.

"Change is the most consistent constant," he said.

School Counselor Sharon D. Collier served as master of ceremonies and said that even though the students and faculty may change, their legacy will be remembered.

"The spirit of Seneca will never die," she said.

Among the students specially recognized at the ceremony were valedictorian Anthony Stackpole, salutatorian Brandon J. Nicpon and Detris Alonna Quinnie, who won three awards and scholarships.

e-mail: [email protected]

Originally published by NEWS STAFF REPORTER.

(c) 2008 Buffalo News. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.