Children and Youth

James Gulli receives high school diploma after leaving for the Korean War

Sixty-six years after dropping out of high school to serve in the Korean War, James Gulli returned home to Hollister to receive his high school diploma.
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On Wednesday June 27, 83-year-old Hollister native James Gulli was surrounded by family and friends as he received his high school diploma from the San Benito High School District. Gulli left to serve in the Korean War in 1952 while he was still in school.

Wanting to follow in the footsteps of family members who had served in the military before him, Gulli dropped out of high school and joined the Air Force. Military service was part of the Gulli family, as Gulli had six other family members who served during WWII and the Korean War before Gulli joined the military.

After finishing his years of service, Gulli returned home and continued his higher education without a high school degree. In the years to follow, Gulli earned his Associate, Bachelor, and Masters degrees all while working to support his own family.

Though Gulli’s life has been one marked by personal achievements, such as working on the Apollo 13 mission, Gulli said on Wednesday night he still felt a sense of guilt from dropping out of high school. Coming from a family of educators, including a mother who valued education and went to night school to get her citizenship after emigrating from Italy, Gulli felt it was important to also receive his high school diploma.

Hoping to reach this goal by obtaining his degree from the same institution as his family members and peers, Gulli reached out to San Benito High School District Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum to see what steps needed to be taken to obtain his diploma.

The school district soon learned that Gulli could receive his diploma due to his time in the military through Operation Recognition, a program created after the passage of three bills by the Washington State Legislature in 2005. The program awards high school diplomas to veterans who left school to serve in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

As the organization’s web page stated, “This is a small, overdue gesture of our society’s gratitude for the sacrifice these individuals made in the name of freedom.”

While addressing the audience before receiving his diploma, Gulli provided another reason of why he wanted to obtain his diploma despite his age and achievements: to inspire younger generations to not drop out of high school and to never give up.

“I’m hoping to reach some young kid who thinks dropping out is an option,” Gulli said. “It’s a long road. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Don’t stop at the high school diploma. Go for the Masters. Go for the Ph.D.”

Following Gulli’s address, Tennenbaum shared words on Gulli’s journey, as well as the high school districts support of Gulli and other veterans.

“Once a Baler always a Baler,” he said as he provided Gulli with his diploma.


Becky Bonner

Becky Bonner is a local teacher at San Benito High School who is passionate about sharing things to do in San Benito County.