updated 6/10/2008 9:23:51 AM ET 2008-06-10T13:23:51

John Lawrence Locher has accomplished many things in his 90 years, including living through the Great Depression, fighting in the Pacific during World War II and a long career with General Motors.

But missing was the diploma whose pursuit he abandoned in the early 1930s to help feed his family in Detroit.

Locher checked it off his list, wearing his cap and gown in Detroit Southwestern High School's 2008 commencement ceremonies Monday night — more than 70 years after he dropped out.

"I feel 100 percent lighter," he said. "I appreciate this moment very much. ... It really was overwhelming."

'Life credits'
The school sent the General Motors Corp. retiree an honorary diploma for "life credits" this past winter to his home in Cape Coral, Fla. Southwestern Principal Garnet R. Green later said Locher's family had contacted the school about the diploma and allowing him to participate in commencement.

"When I opened it up, I almost fainted," Locher said a few hours before the ceremony from his daughter's home outside Lansing. "I thought someone was playing a real cruel joke on me."

Locher left school after 10th grade, with the city and rest of the country mired in the Depression and his father suffering from tuberculosis.

"My family was starving, literally," he said. "I had to make some provision to make money. I was the oldest. I had a paper route. I did all kinds of work. I worked one place for 33 cents an hour, and I worked my fanny off."

He latched onto GM in 1936.

"I worked 38 years with GM," he said proudly. "I was a senior design engineer at the time, and I didn't have a high school diploma. God has been really good to me."

Five of Locher's eight children and his 80-year-old wife, Mary, were among relatives attending the ceremony.

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