It’s never too late to graduate

Avonworth superintendent Tom Ralston (center) and board president David Oberdick (left) present a 1968 high school diploma to Greg Henniquan. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Not many sophomores today would decide to do what Greg Henniquan did back in 1966.

It probably would not even be possible for a sophomore of today to do what he did, but he was determined to pursue the direction that he had mapped out for his life.

Spending days in the classroom on Dickson Avenue where Avonworth High School was located back then just was not his style. Serving his country, which was embroiled in the war in Vietnam, had a much stronger emotional pull on him.

Greg, now 69, explains it simply by saying, “I wanted to serve my country.”

And so, even though he had just turned 16, his proud parents agreed to sign him out of school and into the military.

He enlisted in the Navy, trained at the Great Lakes Naval Base in the Chicago region and was then stationed in Virginia, where he was assigned as a seaman on the USS Artouris, a supply ship serving other Navy vessels in the Atlantic.

He very much wanted to serve in Vietnam, but it never worked out, and so he stayed where he was needed.

But the “Join the Navy, See the World” slogan became part of his lifestyle, and every time his ship was docked in a foreign port, he would tour as much of the country as time allowed.

One notable memory of his travels occurred when he was in Rome, and just by chance the Pope stepped out on the balcony.

“It was Pope Paul VI,” Greg recalled. “He greeted and then blessed the crowd that had gathered in St. Peter's Square.”

Following two years of active duty and two years in the reserves, Greg was discharged in 1970 and returned to his hometown, where he worked in a mill for 31 years. For the past 16 years, he has worked as a patient delivery representative for UPMC.

“I deliver medication to patients who are homebound. It can be sad at times, but it's also very rewarding,” Greg said.

As has been his life. He and his wife, Bernice, have three sons and reside in Allison Park.

With the unique course that he has followed, Greg is qualified to offer some advice for the country: “Stay strong and proud.”

Despite his decision to end his high school education at an early age, his words of advice for young people today are brief and sincere: “Get your education.”

And despite his never receiving his diploma with the Class of 1968, he now has it, presented to him by Avonworth superintendent Thomas Ralston (rather than by 1968 principal James McLaughlin) prior to the school board meeting this past Monday evening.

In presenting the 1968 Avonworth diploma, Ralston said, “Especially being so close to Veterans Day, it is most appropriate that we honor Mr. Henniquan for his service to his country.”

The ceremony had been arranged through Therone Wade, who explained, “As a veteran, I have had a desire to help fellow vets who left high school to join the military to obtain their high school diploma. I am working with school districts in Allegheny County and the Pittsburgh diocese to see veterans or their widows/children be granted a diploma for their service to our country and our allies.”

It was an emotional moment, with several family members on hand to congratulate him for one more accomplishment in his lifetime of accomplishments.

A final question, though, had to be asked.

Looking back, would you do it all over again?

Greg answered in his sincere and brief style, “In a heartbeat.”