This past Sunday at Stanford University's commencement for the Graduate School of Education, located in the West Oval Grove, around 200 students walked the stage to receive their respective degrees. The last student was Bonnie Gould, who happily picked up the diploma that he earned ... 61 years ago.
Gould now 93 years old with six children, 13 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren earned his master's degree in education at Stanford in 1954. However, he did not attend the graduation ceremony. At that time, he had several children and was working for the Redwood City School District, which all "(demanded) a certain amount of attention," he said. Gould didn't think missing the ceremony was too big of a deal and "didn't feel it was necessary."
This piece of information came to light some six decades later when his granddaughter-in-law Crystal Sturgis was working on a documentary about Gould, who is her husband Cosmo's grandfather. Sturgis said she comes from a large family and loves to hear about others' life stories.
"It drove me to learning about Cosmo and his past and his extended family," Sturgis said.
Gould was born on Aug. 20, 1921, into a large family in Savona, New York, where he grew up and helped out on the family farm. In 1943, he graduated from Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, with a bachelor's degree in education. Gould's sister was a teacher and he enjoyed speaking, so those sparked his interest in education.
During his time at Taylor University, he volunteered for the U.S. Navy. Days after graduating and earning his bachelor's degree, he married his wife, Margaret, and then departed to begin his service during World War II.
Even though Gould signed up with the Navy, he was placed into the 77th Infantry Division in the U.S. Army as a spotter: He looked out for enemies on land and sent information back to naval ships. During the Battle of Okinawa, he was involved with destroying the Shuri Castle, which Japanese soldiers used as a fort. This battle, which resulted in the destruction of the castle and its surrounding hills, marked the beginning of the end of World War II.
In 1945, Gould and Margaret settled in Palo Alto after he returned from 18 months in the war, and the following year he began to work for the Redwood City School District. The government offered them several places to live and to pay for his education, so he chose to take classes at Stanford for a master's degree in education. Gould loved attending Stanford and enjoyed his experience as a student at the school, according to his granddaughter-in-law.
He retired in 1981 after spending 35 years at the district as a coach, teacher, principal, assistant to the superintendent and superintendent. After retirement, he continued to teach in the form of Bible study classes for senior citizens. Gould believes that God has protected and helped him through everything in his life, Sturgis said.
For his time in the war, he was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery but modestly felt that he did not deserve it. He thought that he was just doing what everyone else was doing: fighting for their country. Sturgis said that the three words that would best describe Gould would be Christian, humble and loyal.
Sturgis recalled her grandfather-in-law speaking on her wedding day, jokingly making fun of himself and others in what she called a "stand-up comedy act." But he was also serious in expressing his happiness and support for her and her husband. Sturgis said that Gould is "able to connect with people."
In 2015, after encouragement from his granddaughter-in-law and wife, Gould finally decided it was time to experience what he missed out on for the last 61 years: walking the stage and receiving his master's diploma. Sturgis contacted Stanford faculty and asked if he could attend the Graduate School of Education ceremony and walk the stage, to which they agreed.
"(Stanford has) been so gracious. ... They understood what I was trying to do," Sturgis told the Palo Alto Weekly. "I'm thankful for everyone who has tried to make this happen."
At the commencement ceremony, Deborah Stipek, Stanford's dean of the Graduate School of Education, briefly spoke about Gould's life story in her welcome address to the graduates and the audience. Then Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford professor emeritus, noted the significance of teaching and education.
"Teaching is the most important profession ... (which) all others depend on," Darling-Hammond said.
While generations of students have depended on Gould as a trusted educator, he has depended on his faith and family to support him along the way. And on Sunday, after all of the other graduates, he was escorted by Sturgis up to the stage to receive his diploma in education.
Before the ceremony, Gould summed up his feelings about finally walking the stage in four simple words: "I'm excited about it."