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Gainesville honors dedicated community members with diplomas
0523 grads-Ware
William Ware

Three people walking in tonight’s Gainesville High School graduation may be a little older than the average student, but they’re just as eager to get their hands on that diploma.

Jean Ash Gruhn, Diane O’Kelley and William Ware have been selected as this year’s honorary diploma recipients.

“These people have given not only to Gainesville High School but to the community as well,” Principal LaCrisia Larkin said. “It’s a way to recognize them for what they have done.”

This is the sixth year of recognizing area residents with honorary diplomas. They’ll march in tonight’s graduation with the class of 2014, and sit through the ceremony in a special side area. They were also the guests of honor at a reception Thursday evening at First Baptist Church.

“I’m just thrilled,” said O’Kelley, a former elementary school teacher. “I’m in just complete shock. It’s so special.”

She spent her entire career with Gainesville schools, having taught at Enota and Fair Street elementary schools. She continues to serve as a substitute teacher.

Gruhn was also a teacher in the Gainesville system. She taught social studies, physical education and science at the high school.

“In those days, they told you where to go and you did,” she said, adding that receiving an honorary diploma is “overwhelming.”

Gruhn is responsible for one of Gainesville’s famous landmarks, having commissioned “the rock” across the street from the high school. It’s often painted with messages for students or special events.

She is the widow of longtime Gainesville High football coach Bobby Gruhn.

Ware, former dean of education at Brenau University, was Fair Street School’s principal from 1976-77. He began his career in Selma, Ala., as a science teacher and football coach.

“This is an honor,” he said. “I’m appreciative.”

The husband of Gainesville High theater teacher Pam Ware, he was also an assistant principal at Selma High School before moving to Gainesville in 1973.

The diploma recipients are nominated by members of the community, then selected by the high school’s governance council. There are very few requirements, beyond making meaningful contributions to Gainesville High and not having a diploma from Gainesville, Fair Street or E.E. Butler high schools.

Those nominated but not selected remain in the running for upcoming years.

The Gainesville system was the first in the nation to present honorary diplomas, according to school board member Sammy Smith. Ware, Gruhn and O’Kelley join 19 others who have been recognized over the past six years.

“I love it because the honorees are so appreciative of the honor,” Larkin said. “It’s just one small token of appreciation we can give to them.”