- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TABOR, S.D. (AP) - Darlene Carda enjoyed all the traditions of high school graduation Monday night.

She wore the mortarboard, accepted her diploma and smiled for photos during the short ceremony at the Tabor elementary school. And yes, she celebrated afterward with cake - even cutting it for guests.

She also proudly showed off her yearbook - the 1950 “Cardinal” from her freshman year in high school. For when it came to completing high school, she literally awaited a lifetime.

That’s because the Korean War got in the way of her high school plans. Carda and her fiancé decided to marry before he left for the military. They wed Jan. 8, 1952, when she was 16.

“We got married at St. Wenceslaus Church, just up the street,” she told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan (https://bit.ly/1UaN9Kn ). “Back then, when you got married, that was the end of school. But I considered marriage my vocation - marriage and having a family. I had 12 children, eight girls and four boys.”

Carda never returned to high school, but she never stopped learning. She took a number of courses, yet she always dreamed of getting her high school diploma.

That dream became reality Monday during a “graduation” ceremony held during the Bon Homme school board meeting in Tabor. Carda became an official Tabor High School graduate 63 years after her classmates took to the stage.

Carda received her honorary diploma as a member of the Class of 1953. She became the latest - and most likely the last - graduate of the Tabor school district, which no longer exists.

Tabor and Tyndall combined to form the Tyndall-Tabor district. The merged district later joined with Springfield to form the present-day Bon Homme school district.

The 63-year wait for the diploma was well worth it, Carda said.

“I can’t say enough. This is so exciting,” she said, beaming as she clutched the sheepskin. “I always dreamed of this, but I thought there was no way of doing it. To receive a diploma - I thought I had no more ability to do it than the man on the moon.”

Now 81 years old, Carda lives in the Elkhorn district on the western edge of Omaha, Nebraska. She celebrated her birthday May 28, with the diploma one of the best presents she could imagine.

Current Bon Homme Superintendent Mike Elsberry spent most of the past year corresponding with Carda’s daughter, Rebecca Leigh, about the possibility of a diploma.

“This has been nine months and millions of emails in the making,” Elsberry said with a laugh as he opened the commencement program.

Much has changed over the years, including the Tabor school’s location, Elsberry said. “I’m not sure she could find her old school,” he said.

The audience included family members from New York, Connecticut, Alaska and Omaha, Nebraska. Recognition was given to two of Carda’s classmates, Sharleen Hovorka and Lumir Ruman, who were in attendance and posed with her for pictures.

Rebecca Leigh and her sister, Rachel Andrews, offered loving thoughts about their mother and her lifelong achievements.

Carda’s carefree high school days included classes, chorus, girls’ glee club, declamation, cheerleading and dances, Leigh said. Carda assumed she would graduate from high school, but those plans gave way to a totally different life’s path.

While she didn’t complete high school, Carda continued to educate herself. A voracious reader, she filled her home library with books from wall to wall and has read all of them.

In addition, Carda also attended Creighton University’s Lifelong Learning Center in Omaha. She has shown a particular interest in the subjects of marriage, physiology and positive thinking.

She has also deepened and learned more about the Bible and her Catholic faith. She has attended dozens of conferences and retreats in her pursuit of knowledge.

Carda has also mentored students at Boys Town in Omaha, where she has attended Mass for more than 30 years. In addition, she taught religious education classes for the Omaha Archdiocese.

She nearly died last October for a cerebral aneurysm, but she has resumed reading novels and has learned to use an iPhone for the first time. She makes extensive use of Face Time, Facebook, email, texting, photos and downloading a variety of word and math apps.

“She even learned how to use those cute little emojis,” Leigh said.

In addition, Carda maintained a journal for the past 30 years, compiling more than 3,000 pages of entries. Leigh hopes to make a book about her mother’s life. In one anecdote, a priest at Boys Town advised her that life is hard, but not to lose heart.

In much the same way, Carda didn’t lose heart about never receiving her diploma.

“This is something you thought was out of reach forever, but you did it!” Leigh told her mother. “You showed the importance of finishing what you started!”

Carda hopes others share her passion and thirst for knowledge, even if they do it in a non-traditional way.

“You should always be learning,” she said. “It’s something that should be continued throughout your lifetime. It’s all part of your life’s journey.”


Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, https://www.yankton.net/

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