Anita Krausch's thoughts drifted from confusion to joy as a grin as broad as a mortarboard spread across her face.
"I'd like to ask Mrs. Anita Krausch to come to the stage right now," Sachem High School North Principal John Dolan announced.
With her right arm hooked around her grandson's, the 91-year-old Commack resident ascended the steps in the middle of the school football field in Lake Ronkonkoma Saturday. Sachem North's 542 graduating students sat behind her, cheering.
In a surprise addition to the ceremony, school administrators and district officials presented Krausch with a cap and gown -- and her own Sachem North diploma, a moment 74 years in the making.
She held the document close and pressed a tissue to her magenta-colored lips with her free hand, tears welling in her eyes.
"It's so cool and such a great experience that . . . I'm able to see her have her cap and gown on and take her diploma after all these years," said grandson Kyle Kilkenny, 18, a Lake Ronkonkoma resident who also graduated.
Krausch dropped out of Pelham Memorial High School in Westchester County after her junior year to support her family at the start of World War II. Instead of accepting her diploma with the class of 1941, she was working as a typist in Manhattan.
She never felt her incomplete education held her back, she said. She built a party-planning business and created the Commack Youth Council, a teen leadership group. She raised four children. But she longed for the piece of paper that proclaimed her a graduate.
"I feel elated. I cried for him [my grandson] and I cried for me," she said after the ceremony. "It's something that I've been wanting all my life."
Kerry Kilkenny, 50, Krausch's youngest daughter and Kyle's mother, coordinated the award over about five months. She and her son wove an intricate web of communication that included Assemb. Al Graf (R-Holbrook), Sachem district Superintendent James Nolan, Principal Dolan and the New York State Board of Regents to get approval, Kerry Kilkenny said.
After the ceremony, Krausch received as much attention as her grandson, taking pictures and receiving hugs from his friends. As for Krausch's post-graduation, she plans to celebrate her grandson and think of her late husband.
"To me, she's done more than some people with formal educations, bachelor's, doctorates," her daughter said.