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Phillip J. Killsfirst Sr. sits among a class of seniors of a different type when he graduated from Apache High School last month, 48 years after he should have walked the stage.Phillip J. Killsfirst Sr. walks across the stage at Apache High School graduation to be awarded his diploma, 48 years after dropping out of high school. The new graduate was drafted into the Army and fought in Vietnam before coming home and starting a family.

Apache graduate gets diploma 48 years later

APACHE  When Phillip J. Killsfirst Sr. walked across the stage last month during the Apache High School commencement exercise, it was an experience 48 years in the making.

"It felt pretty good," he said. "My emotions were all over the place."

At 66 years old, Killsfirst was the oldest graduate in this year's class. He dropped out during his senior year of high school in 1966 and was drafted into the Army and deployed to Vietnam. While stationed in Fort Polk, La., for training, the military made him take his GED test, which he never had any aspirations of passing. Much to his surprise, he passed.

"How I did that, to this day I still don't know," Killsfirst said. 

After he was discharged from the Army, the veteran began working in Apache. He said he simply forgot about earning his GED and moved on with his life. The GI Bill afforded him an opportunity to go to college or a trade school, but it took him nine years to take advantage of it. He was told there was a 10-year limit on the educational benefits and the federal government would only pay for one year of school. So he took advantage of it and attended his first year at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology. 

"After my first year, I went down to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and asked if they would fund my second year," Killsfirst said. "A year later, I graduated with a certification for heating and air conditioning." 

Killsfirst didn't have much use for his certification, as he took a job at Woodward's Furniture in Apache, where he worked for 22 years. Looking back, he said life simply got in the way of furthering his education.

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