98-year-old returns to Howard School to get her diploma

Claudia Parries was a senior at Howard School, graduation in sight.

Yet she knew what she had to do.

It was 1933. FDR was president and a gallon of gas cost about 10 cents. The nation was still in the throes of the Great Depression. But Claudia's family knew its own hard times.

Her mother was ill, so Claudia dropped out of school to care for her. After her mother died, it fell to Claudia, the oldest, to mind her seven younger siblings.

After that she married and raised her own family, eight kids in all, just as her mother had.

If the idea of returning to school to get her diploma ever crossed Claudia's mind, well, that time was past.

She's now 98 years old, but the thought of what she gave up is still fresh.

"I didn't get to finish," she said.

Retired teacher Evelyn Parries, Claudia's daughter, said her mother would shed a tear whenever talk turned to education. So she and her siblings set out to make their mother's dream come true.

After making special arrangements via email, they drove her from their home in Ohio back to Chattanooga. On Tuesday, they arrived at Howard School for a special ceremony.

Her children draped a maroon graduation gown over her black dress and topped it with a gold-tassled hat. Then Principal Zac Brown presented her with an honorary diploma. She also received a Howard School T-shirt, balloons, a cake and yellow roses.

When "Pomp and Circumstance" began to play on an iPhone, Claudia started to cry.

photo While her daughter, Evelyn Parries, holds her glasses, 98-year-old Claudia May Hill-Parries wipes her eyes after receiving an honorary diploma Tuesday from the Howard School. She would have graduated with her class in 1933, but had to drop out of school and take care of her family during her senior year when her mother died.

"This is something I expected a long time ago," she said.

The Howard principal said the email from Evelyn Parries detailed how her mother had traveled the world with her late husband of 65 years, attended some college classes and was active in her church.

But what stuck out to him was that, while Claudia Parries didn't graduate, she raised eight children who did. They all earned a high school diploma, all of them attended college and two of them have master's degrees. And one child, Evelyn Parries, became a teacher.

"She raised her kids so well," said Brown, after Tuesday's presentation.

Claudia moved to Ohio in the late 1930s with her father and siblings. She married in 1941. In the 1950s, she and her husband moved their family from Cleveland to Shaker Heights because at that time it had one of the best school districts in the country, her daughter said. She was a member of three parent teacher associations at the same time, always putting her children's needs before her own, said Evelyn Parries.

But on Tuesday, it was Claudia's turn.

She laughed and cried after getting her diploma.

Her son, Eddie, jokingly told her to get a job.

Claudia said Howard looked nothing like it did in the 1930s when she attended. She rolled down the halls in her wheelchair and looked at the remodeled building and classrooms.

For all the years between her days at Howard, the finality of her second high school stint wasn't lost on Claudia.

"This is my last day of school," she said.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com.

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