When he was a student at Anchorage High School, Billy Ray Macon Sr. wasn't the typical teenager.
During his senior year in 1961, Macon was married with a baby and working nights at the Elmendorf Air Force Base. His family lived in a tiny house without running water, and because they didn't have a car, Macon had to walk an hour to and from school. He barely had time to start his homework before he had to walk to work. For the sake of his family and their future, "the only thing on my mind was to get a diploma," Macon told Alaska's News Source.
He completed his senior year and received his diploma, but it had a red stamp across the middle that read, "This student met minimum state requirements." This diminished his accomplishment, and Macon said while he "didn't let that stop me," he never displayed the diploma, keeping it in a plastic bag.
Macon went on to become a successful businessman, owning his own contracting business, and wrote a book. The diploma "didn't define who he was as a person," his granddaughter, Tafena Timpson, told Alaska's News Source, but "his pain and his hurt, it really weighed on him." Ahead of his 80th birthday on Jan. 28, Timpson wrote on social media about her grandfather, his inspiring life, and how she wanted him to have a new, clean diploma. It turns out the right person saw the post: Sven Gustafson, the principal of Macon's old school, now called West Anchorage High School.
Gustafson immediately agreed to help, and Timpson thought he would just give her grandfather a new diploma. On Jan. 28, Macon, his wife Lourdes, Timpson, and other members of their family went to the high school, and when Macon found out why they were there, "I could have fainted," he said.
The principal had put together a graduation ceremony for Macon, and gave him a cap and gown to wear. The choir sang, cheerleaders chanted, and students clapped in the audience. Best of all, Macon was presented with his new diploma. "It's unbelievable," Macon said. "It is unbelievable."