"I’ve finally got it" -- 54 years after dropping out, a 69-year-old Clarksville man graduates from high school

Joseph Reynolds
Posted at 4:27 PM, May 25, 2023

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Wednesday night, inside the Winfield Dunn Center in Clarksville, was a graduation ceremony full of pomp, especially when you consider the circumstances. After all, it wasn't your typical high school graduation. "Change takes courage, each of you sitting here today made a choice to make a change and attend adult high school," Kim Sigears, Principal of CMCSS's Adult High School said.

The ceremony also featured one, not-so-typical graduate. That's because, just months before he turns 70, Joseph Reynolds is about to turn his tassel.

"I just didn’t like school -- is that okay?" Reynolds said with a smile.

Reynolds decided to drop out of Clarksville High School in the late 1960s. He considered returning to his coursework, until a fateful day on Kentucky Lake. "It was about 10:30 in the morning, April 26, 1969," said Reynolds. "I dove into shallow water at Paris Landing."

As a result, Reynolds broke his neck — and along with it — his dreams of finishing school. "They said well, we’re not really equipped to handle your situation. I was walking on two canes and wobbling around and trying to get around," Reynolds said after his family simultaneously moved to Charlotte, Tenn. "So I didn’t go back at all."

Joseph went on to navigate a successful career, marriage, and family — but even decades later — he felt like something was missing from his life. "I think it was just a desire I always had, I wanted to finish school. I wanted that diploma," Reynolds said.

So he decided to give it a go when he realized he could finish his degree online. There was just one problem — he never truly mastered computers. "I’ve just changed from a flip phone a few months ago," he said. "As far as typing, I’m hunt and peck."

Reynolds may have had to work at it six days a week, eight hours a day, but Joseph attacked his coursework like a conquering hero. "My favorite subject was US history and world history because my grandkids told me -- they said granddaddy you lived through most of that, didn’t you?" Reynolds said. "I said, well not all of it."

Thanks to his hard work, not only could Joseph put his report card on the fridge, but he could also send out some long-awaited invites. "You’re not down until you stop getting up," he said.

Reynolds took a deep sigh before his name, Joseph Ricky Reynolds, was called out, and he crossed the stage to receive his diploma 54 years after he dropped out of CHS. "Thank you, thank you so much," as he was handed his diploma.

We couldn't help but notice that Joseph seemed to be enjoying the festivities even more than his classmates. "I’m just trying to encourage everyone that if you don't have a diploma, you can get one. It’s not too late," Reynolds said.

That is until it was time to turn the tassel and the page on this lengthy life chapter. Because after all these years, there couldn't have been enough pomp to celebrate this remarkable circumstance.

"This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," Reynolds said. "I’ve got it -- I’ve finally got it."

So what's next for Reynolds? He's joked about going to college, but in the meantime, he's starting work on a book he's writing about his own life.

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