LANSING | Clad in a red Thornton Fractional South High School cap and gown, C.P. Crawford received the high school diploma Friday he hadn't obtained earlier in life.
A resident of Lansing’s Tri-State Nursing and Rehab Center for the past year, Crawford clasped the honorary diploma to his chest during a ceremony.
The event was initiated by Rita Oberman, a Thornton Fractional Township High School District 215 School Board member.
“I read a story in The Times about Mr. Crawford and that he regretted not going to school. I called the principal (Judy Whalen) and asked what we can do to give him an honorary diploma,” Oberman said.
She also worked with Sheila Huff, the activity director of the rehab center, to make sure Crawford and other residents would be able to attend.
In addition to eight fellow center residents, nearly 100 people attending the special graduation ceremony at the high school. Among them were village officials, school district members, T.F. South students, faculty members and administrators.
Jeremy Kiolbassa, a music teacher at Chicago’s St. Benedict High School, played the piano during the festivities, including the traditional graduation march “Pomp and Circumstance.” T.F. South music teacher Samantha Elliott sang the national anthem.
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“Now that’s a handsome graduate,” Whalen said about Crawford as Devonte Jackson, a 2011 T.F. South graduate and Tri-State activity aide, helped the man don the gown and placed the mortar board on his head.
“You appreciate education a lot more than many students today,” Whalen said. “You have lived history.”
Jake Gourley, a social studies teacher at T.F. South, told those gathered that Crawford’s lifespan has included the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act, the interstate highway system, the admission of four states to the union, the passage of 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution and 19 presidencies.
“You’re also one of the few people to be alive when both Chicago baseball teams won the World Series,” Gourley quipped to laughter and clapping from the audience.
Juniors and seniors from two classes shook Crawford’s hand.
Those hands began picking cotton in the fields outside Jackson, Miss., at the age of 4. By 13, when many children start high school, Crawford got his first job working at a café washing dishes in downtown Jackson. Jobs at Southland Oil Refinery in Mississippi and with the Illinois Central Railroad in Chicago followed. Crawford worked on the railroad until his retirement.
Known at the Lansing nursing home as a kind and loving man, Crawford married three times and fathered six children during his lifetime. His family also includes five grandchildren.
“You gotta go to school,” Crawford told the students gathered for his ceremony. “Mind your own business. Be thankful. Be kind to others.”