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U.S. Marine veteran Joseph Bond accomplished his lifelong goal and graduated high school at 72 years old on June 13, 2024. Bond enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17 years old before graduating high school and made a promise to his mother before she passed away that he would finish school. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christian Cortez)

Photo by Christian Cortez

A Promise to Learn

21 Jun 2024 | CWO3 Bobby Yarbrough Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island

Sitting inside the Philadelphia County court room, the judge gave Joseph Bond two choices—he could either enlist in the military or go to jail.

Bond was in high school and only 17 years old at the time. The war in Vietnam was nearing its height, but despite that fact, Bond believed service to his country was a better option than jail.

Bond decided to enlist in the Marine Corps and leave high school without graduating. He soon left his parents and his five siblings in Philadelphia bound for recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.

Bond admits he had a hard time adjusting to the Marine Corps at first due to the toughness of his drill instructors, but he realized to graduate he needed to conform.

Bond would grow to love the Marine Corps, finding comfort in the physical elements of the job. Although he hadn’t traveled much in his life, the Marine Corps would eventually send him to Vietnam, Japan, and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Following the Corps

Bond would eventually leave the Marine Corps in the mid-1970s and returned to Philadelphia, but he had a hard time returning to civilian life due to his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He eventually landed on his feet and was hired as an equipment operator with the Philadelphia Water Department.

Bond was busy beginning a career and a family, leaving no time for education. But in 1977, Bond’s mother Elizabeth became sick and he made a promise to her just before she passed away.

"When she died, I made a promise to her — that I would get my diploma," Bond said.

Life continued at a fast pace for Bond, who would eventually have three children. In 1995, he joined the Army National Guard and following the attacks on 9/11, he was activated and deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Bond said he was always focused on his family, ensuring that his children would have a chance to get a good education. For Bond, schooling for himself, was the furthest thing from his mind.

Back to School

For 35 years, Bond remained with the Philadelphia Water Department and retired in 2013.

By then, he had 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. His family pushed him to return to school and in 2023 Bond returned to Benjamin Franklin High School in hopes of earning his diploma.

Bond said he wanted to show his family that it is never too late to learn.

After five decades removed from schooling, Bond admits he had a learning curve returning to the classroom but was committed to fulfilling the promise he made to his mother. Additionally, Bond didn’t know what it would be like to return to school attending class with people who were his grandchildren’s age. But he said everyone was welcoming.

Despite his age, Bond was respected and loved by his classmates. So much so, that he was crowned prom king at this year’s school prom.


On June 13, Bond graduated from high school and received his diploma. His family and fellow Marines from 1st Marine Corps District were in attendance to congratulate him on his accomplishment.

For Bond, the moment provided closure for the promise he made to his mother nearly 50 years ago.

“Education is Freedom,” said Bond. “That’s something you can’t take away from anybody.”

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Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island