By Lindsay Seagraves/Staff Writer
Etowah High teacher and head track and field coach Blake Hudson has been reading the names of Etowah High School’s graduating seniors for four years now.
Only this year has he called a graduate that brought the entire audience to its feet in a standing ovation.
“It was difficult to get through reading it without getting choked up. Truth be told, I’m not sure the people heard his name.
“Once I finished reading his biography and started to say his name, the place erupted with applause. It gave me chills.”
1st Petty Officer Roy O. Patterson walked across stage at the EHS graduation ceremony on Thursday, May 29 at age 74, to earn his high school diploma with the graduation date of May 16, 1960.
Patterson attended Etowah High School in 1954 through 1958, when he entered the US Navy, making it unable for him to attend his graduation ceremony.
During his time in the Navy, Patterson was involved in the Taiwan Expeditionary Service and the Vietnam War.
He received multiple honors such as the National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary for Taiwan Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and two Good Conduct Medals.
Patterson served until 1966, when he was honorably discharged as 1st Petty Officer.
Patterson said he first learned that he could still graduate while watching TV one night, as a veteran graduated from Guntersville High School at the age of 72. He then learned about a state passed memorandum that grants high school diplomas to qualifying World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.
Etowah High Principal Jeff Colegrove described Patterson’s graduation as electric, saying, “I was honored to be a part of it. It was incredible – really incredible.”
Colegrove said Patterson even wore a gap and gown with the rest of the graduates, and participated in the rehearsal and ceremony.
Patterson joked, “They had a police officer and golf cart out there to take me to meet the kids in the band room. The principal told the two kids in front of and behind me to keep me straight.”
Patterson received a standing ovation from guests upon receiving his diploma.
“The place went into a total uproar when they called my name,” Patterson recalled.
Patterson said he was given three ways to receive his diploma, including the option to have a private ceremony. His reply: “Whatever will inspire the kids the most.”