A 101-year-old WWII veteran finally walked at his college graduation ceremony, 80 years after he was supposed to

Collage of photos of Fred Taylor, about 80 years apart.
Fred Taylor, pictured left in his junior year, and right at his 2023 graduation ceremony.Courtesy of Cornell College; Megan Amr
  • On May 14, 101-year-old Fred Taylor walked at Cornell College's 2023 graduation ceremony.

  • He missed his own class' graduation ceremony, in 1943, while training to serve in WWII.

  • The heartwarming moment was made possible by his 74-year-old daughter, Linda.

In the fall of 1939, a teenage Fredric Taylor started his freshman year at Iowa's Cornell College to pursue a degree in music education.

Then, in 1942 — the year after the United States entered World War II — Taylor made the decision to join the Army Air Corps. He fulfilled the requirements to graduate from college but, a few months before his school's ceremony, he was sent to Missouri for basic training, preventing him from attending his class' graduation in 1943.

"It was just something that felt incomplete — doing all the work for the degree and not walking across the stage and receiving that diploma," Taylor told The Washington Post in 2023.

This year, he finally got the chance. Cornell College honored the World War II veteran at its 2023 commencement ceremony on May 14.

Fred Taylor walking at Cornell College graduation in 2023.
Fred Taylor walking at Cornell College graduation in 2023.Megan Amr

According to The Washington Post, Taylor's 74-year-old daughter, Linda, helped make it happen. Earlier this year, she asked the college's administration if her father could participate in the graduation procession, and after the administration agreed to honor Taylor at the ceremony, she reserved plane tickets and hotel rooms to prepare for her father's big day.

"Linda mentioned this idea a long time ago, but it was a big surprise to me that she had gone ahead and made the arrangements to do it," Taylor told Cornell College's News Center. "So, of course, I'm surprised and excited about it," he said before the ceremony.

Jonathan Brand, the president of Cornell College, said in a statement, "Every student deserves that moment in front of their families to celebrate the completion of college, even if it's 80 years later."

Fred Taylor in his graduation cap and gown in 2023.
Fred Taylor in his graduation cap and gown in 2023.Megan Amr

Cornell College was more than the site of Taylor's higher education. Taylor met his wife, Peggy, during his senior year. They had been married for over 75 years at the time of her death in 2020.

"Cornell shaped the rest of my life, actually," Taylor told Cornell's News Center. "For my work and occupation and then meeting Peggy there. I married her and of course, that shaped the rest of my life. The college was extremely important to me."

As for his career in music, Taylor went on to earn a master's degree in music education from Drake University in the mid-1950s, according to the Post, but unfortunately he missed that graduation ceremony as well due to his job at the time.

With two degrees in music education, Taylor became a music instructor at elementary, middle, and high schools around the country before retiring.

Of his graduation ceremony at the age of 101, his daughter Linda told Cornell's News Center, "Better late than never, I think!"

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