On Friday, June 7, the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District (PYLUSD) and Valencia High School (VHS) held a special graduation ceremony for Mr. Filiberto Lopez Montano, a 95-year-old World War II Veteran who never received his high school diploma due to his service.
That morning, the entire Valencia community, including all students and staff, cheered Mr. Montano on in Bradford Stadium alongside 50 of his family members. Distinguished guests including Board President, Carrie Buck, Clerk, Judi Carmona, Trustee, Karin Freeman, as well as PYLUSD Superintendent, Dr. Greg Plutko, and Assistant Superintendent, Rick Lopez were also in attendance.
“Mr. Montano remained a Tiger until he did what so many young men and women felt was necessary to do at the time – serve our country in a branch of the military,” Principal Olivia Yaung shared that morning. “With our nation in the middle of World War II, Mr. Montano was drafted to the United States Navy and started boot camp before he could receive his high school diploma.”
The Valencia High student served in the U.S. Navy, deployed in the South Pacific on the USS Mobjack, while his peers in the Class of 1942 received their diplomas. Upon the motor torpedo boat tender, Mr. Montano served as a baker aboard and was responsible for providing essential meals to fuel over 300 of his fellow soldiers.
“Mr. Montano left the Navy after four years as a petty officer first class, having earned a Bronze Star with Clusters for his heroic actions above and beyond the call of duty,” Yaung also mentioned.
Although Montano has lived a very meaningful and accomplished life as a World War II veteran, family man, and community leader, his missing diploma was something he thought about often.
“I see receiving a high school diploma as a final accomplishment. Taking this final step and receiving a diploma reaffirms my love for knowledge,” Montano said.
President Buck and Principal Yaung then presented Mr. Montano with a PYLUSD military challenge coin and lastly, his long-awaited high school diploma.
“Thank you all for being a part of this memorable morning for Valencia High School and the Montano family. Once a Tiger, Always a Tiger!” Yaung ended.
In May 2019, PYLUSD launched a search for former students who may qualify for retroactive high school diplomas. The District may authorize retroactive diplomas to former students, like Mr. Montano, who are veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, and to former students who were interned during World War II. Learn more about this initiative here.