Graduates at play

June 10, 2006|by KAREN HANNA


What started 61 years ago with a lie that sent one Smithsburg High School student across the ocean ended with a fitting reward. For nearly 200 young people, four years culminated in dance steps and beach balls.

Charles Trite, who left school as a ninth-grader to join the U.S. Navy as World War II raged, received an honorary diploma during his alma mater's graduation ceremony Friday at The Maryland Theatre.

Some students kicked up their heels and performed a few dance steps as they collected their diplomas. After returning to their seats, they knocked around beach balls and tossed their tassels in the air.


In all, 198 students of the class of 2006 graduated, according to a program.

While students sat on the stage, Trite sat in a black cap and gown in the audience. After the ceremony, his sentiments were not far removed from theirs.

"I guess I'm going to have to get a real job," Trite jested.

Before joining the U.S. Navy, Trite was a member of the class of 1949, though he never graduated. Nineteen members of Trite's class attended the graduation and honorary degree ceremony, Principal Melvin Whitfield said.

Salutatorian Kenzie Bowen reminded her classmates to appreciate the moment, and she quoted from legendary goof-off Ferris Bueller.

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it," Bowen said.

Valedictorian Usama Qadri challenged his classmates to dream big and question conventions, though he warned they could face criticism for their efforts. Students who dared to break the norms of conformity in high school often wound up with early-morning detentions, he said.

According to Whitfield, Trite lied to get into the military.

As Whitfield gave Trite an honorary diploma, students stood up and cheered, followed by the audience.

"Thank you for reminding us that life is not just for the young, but for the brave and determined, as well," teacher Deidra Herbert told Trite at the start of the ceremony.

As a boy, Trite said a doctor vouched for the military that he was old enough to serve the war effort. He left school and enlisted in November 1945, and he traveled to England and war-ravished Germany, he said.

"I had a brother-in-law that was killed at Iwo Jima when I was 14 years old," Trite said. "I would have went then."

At 15, Trite hardly was the youngest warrior, he said. At least one 12-year-old also served, he said.

Though Trite went on to graduate from the college known at the time as Hagerstown Junior College, the retired electrician said he missed high school.

"I regretted it later, but then, look at the history I've seen," Trite said.

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