BEAVERCREEK — Three time Vietnam tour vet Stephen Cukovecki received his diploma, cap, gown and tassel after 50 years of leaving the halls of his high school as a young man
Now a Xenia resident the once Beavercreek City Schools student received an honorary Veteran Diploma presented by Beavercreek High School Principal Jeff Jones recently.
“As superintendent, my name sits on about 3,700 diplomas and this one is going to be one of my most honored diplomas to present,” Beavercreek Superintendent Otten said during February’s school board meeting.
Cukovecki was surrounded by friends, family and Beavercreek community members as he was congratulated on a lifetime of service and dedication to the United States through his courageous tours during the Vietnam War and being an exceptional leader in the community throughout his life. In 1967, just two weeks before his graduation, Cukovecki was shipped overseas with the Marines to fight in one of the most controversial wars of that time.
“I’m nervous and have chills throughout my body as I stand up her presenting this diploma,” Principal Jones said. “I’m honored to be up here tonight. I’ve never done this before and this will be in my all-time book of favorites. Normally, we start the graduation presentation with something along the lines as, “go out and change the world.” But in this instance, I’d say that you’ve already done that with your actions alone.”
As Cukovecki stood among his audience, tears of pride were displayed from many, even school board members. His close friend, Patty Gallagher (Cartwright), who is an employee of the Beavercreek school system, told his story to the principal and he was moved by the story of this young man’s choice to leave school behind and do what he felt was right. Leaving school without a proper send-off to the world, through a traditional graduation ceremony, Principal Jones and members of the school board could only think of one alternative- to provide Cukovecki with his own private graduation ceremony.
“His story touched my heart,” Principal Jones said. “I don’t know of a bigger commitment to our country than to say that high school can wait.”
“Beavercreek’s moto is ‘Preparing for Tomorrow.’ You’re certainly an inspiration to all of us. You remind us that preparation in life comes in many forms,” added Jones. “Through those experiences, you’ve met and surpassed the criteria that Beavercreek School defines for a diploma.”
Even though it was not required that Cukovecki wear the cap, gown and toss the tassel to the left and right, he is rightfully, now and has always been, a proud graduate of Beavercreek. Additionally, the school board presented Cukovecki with a lifetime pass to all Beavercreek High School events. “We hope to see you often,” Principal Jones said.
In addition, the veteran was presented an Honorary Lifetime Membership from the Beavercreek Alumni Association President and Director Ryan Rushing.
“He [Cukovecki] put his country above himself, exemplifying the true meaning of citizenship. I know that sometimes when soldiers come home from war, they didn’t get treated so well. My uncle always told me that whenever I saw a vet I should always welcome them home,” Rushing said. “Welcome home, sir, and thank you for your service.”
“Thank you to everyone for making this possible. It’s pretty overwhelming, but I really appreciate it,” Cukovecki said.
At the end of the evening he was regarded with a standing ovation.
Danielle Coots is a freelance writer for Greene County News.