Watch Mullins receive his diploma. Video by Chronicle reporter Alyssa Brooks.
After 47 years, veteran Steve Mullins is a Mason High School graduate.
Superintendent Dr. Gail Kist-Kline presented Mullins with his diploma at the April 26 school board meeting. Initially a member of the Class of 1969, Mullins was a senior during the Vietnam War. He was taking one and a half credits, but because students were required to take two credits in order to be considered full-time, his name was submitted to the draft.
Rather than leave his fate to chance, Mullins enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was only two months shy of graduating. While Mullins received his General Equivalency Diploma (GED) before he left for the military, Mullins never received his MHS diploma.
Mason City Council Member and MHS Media Center aide Jim Fox went to school with Mullins and said “everybody liked him.” It was difficult to watch classmates enlist or be drafted, even if it was in the name of the country.
“It was definitely with mixed emotions that we saw our classmates (enlist), and he wasn’t the only who left early,” Fox said. “We knew that they wanted to serve their country, but during the Vietnam War, there were a lot of casualties. We knew that a lot of them would be in harm’s way, so it was a very difficult time for everyone.”
After Mullins enlisted in the U.S. Army, he served at various bases around the country.
“I was going to be a war officer fight pilot, and really had all intents on completing that until I was up in my first helicopter and found out I was afraid of heights,” Mullins said. “The company commander wasn’t too happy about that, but he sent me to Fort Sam, Houston for a medical core down there.”
From Fort Sam, Mullins traveled to Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver and Fort Lewis in Washington State before ending his two-year career in Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Fox kept in contact with Mullins via email, and it was Fox that helped Mullins reach out to administration about receiving his diploma.
“I am sort of the keeper of our class email list, and I actually sent out an email with the lip dub attached to it,” Fox said. “He emailed back, ‘Thanks for the lip dub. By the way, do you know who I could contact about possibly pursuing my high school diploma?’ And that’s how it all started.”
According to Mullins, those close to him inspired him to reach out to Fox and the MHS administration.
“My lady friend back in Colorado, she knew that it bothered me to not have it,” Mullins said. “She was really pushing me, not physically, but it was almost, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’ And it just made her day when I did it.”
Mullins sent Kist-Kline and Principal Dave Hyatt a letter detailing his situation, part of which Hyatt read aloud at the school board meeting.
“Although I received my GED prior to entering the military and had a successful career as a locomotive engineer for 42 years, I have always regretted and actually been ashamed of never getting my high school diploma,” Mullins said. “I’ll be 66 in October and now I think about that diploma, or rather the lack of it, all the time. Maybe 42 years on the same job would be lifetime experience enough, but whatever is required, I’ll be willing and hopefully still able to finally attain my goal.”
Kist-Kline called Mullins, so he could share his story. She told the meeting-goers that Mullins confirmed he had not only been discharged honorably, but that he would also be happy to share his transcripts with her. Kist-Kline said Mullins’ story resonated.
“His story touched my heart,” Kist-Kline said. “Here is a Mason person who joined the army in March of his senior year, and it was clear that after all this time, receiving his diploma was still important to him.”
Kist-Kline researched Ohio law and found that veterans of certain conflicts, such as World War II, Korea or Vietnam, could be eligible to receive diplomas if they had been honorably discharged.
Per this criteria, Mullins was eligible to receive his diploma. Now a resident of Denver, Colo., Mullins drove 19 hours to attend the meeting. He said it was “exceptional.”
“It’s something else off the bucket list, but I’ve had that bucket list for a long time,” Mullins said. “This was at the top of the list.”