Merle Haggard (Finally!) Receives High School Diploma
Merle Haggard is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and has received numerous other honors, but this may be the most unexpected of them all. The 78-year-old country icon finally got a diploma from Bakersfield High School over the weekend, more than 60 years after dropping out.
Haggard had a tough time at school, facing expulsion in the eighth grade after a pulling a prank on a chorus teacher. He was already sour on academics when he began ninth grade at Bakersfield High School the next fall, and cut a number of classes in the first week. His sister, Lillian, worked at the school, and she agreed with a counselor who thought a stay in juvenile hall would straighten him out.
"But Merle didn't think it was fair — the punishment didn't fit the crime," she recalls to the Bakersfield Californian newspaper. "So he got out of there the first day, just walked out. And that was the start of it."
After that, Haggard fell into a pattern of running away from home, working odd jobs and escaping from various juvenile detention centers after his desperate mom would have him sent away. He graduated to real crimes, getting convicted of burglary in 1958. He served two years in San Quentin State Prison, which was enough to finally scare him straight. By the mid-1960s he had begun a string of hits that would turn him into one of the most important country singer-songwriters of all time, including "Mama Tried," "Okie From Muskogee," "Fightin' Side of Me" and "Sing Me Back Home."
Bakersfield High School Principal David Reese was on hand last Saturday (April 25) to present Haggard with his diploma after he completed his soundcheck for his gig at the Fox Theater.
"But I was only there nine days," the bemused singer protested.
His sister didn't even know about the honor until the newspaper contacted her for comment.
"He's kind old for that diploma," she says. "But I'm very happy with his life. It's much richer than people know. He has personally paid quite a price for his indiscretions."
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