After more than 75 years, 94-year-old Ennio Molli (right) fulfilled a lifelong dream to obtain a high school diploma. Molli received the honorary diploma from Dr. Robert Post (left) at a commencement ceremony May 14 at Trinity Living Center. Molli's son, Lou Molli (back, center) of Grove City, attended with his wife, Betty.

The dignified cadence of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ was never more appropriate at a commencement than it was May 14 at Trinity Living Center in Grove City.

It was at that time that Trinity resident Ennio Molli finally received his long-awaited high school diploma – at the age of 94.

‘You’re never too old to get your high school diploma,’ said Jean Dobay, Trinity administrator. ‘Ennio unfortunately didn’t get to finish his high school education because he was called into the service and had to fight in World War II. ...

‘He never got his high school diploma, but he can probably tell you more than most high school graduates – so he deserves an honorary diploma.’

Trinity staff surprised Molli with the commencement ceremony as part of its annual ‘Dream a Little Dream’ program. Each year, the residents are asked if they have a dream that they have never fulfilled, and, if it’s possible, the staff makes it happen.

‘One woman just wanted a chocolate Easter egg. Another gentleman just wanted to go fishing with his kids one last time, but then he passed away and never got to go,’ Dobay said. ‘Every year we ask everyone what their dream is, and (Molli’s) was to get his high school diploma. This one we were able to do.’

Dr. Robert Post, superintendent of Grove City Area School District, and high school principal Joseph Skibinski were present to convey the honorary certificate.

‘It is my pleasure to be here this morning to honor Ennio for his life and for all the things he’s done for us, and for all the things he’s learned over his lifetime,’ Post said. ‘You can really become smart by reading, but you can also become even smarter by living and learning from all the people that you meet.’

‘It is both an honor and a pleasure to be able to award (Molli) with an honorary diploma from Grove City High School,’ Skibinski added.

As ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ played, Molli slowly made his way up to the makeshift stage, leaning on a walker and wiping away tears.

His son and daughter-in-law, Lou and Betty Molli of Grove City, were present for the ceremony. They also shed tears throughout.

‘(This is) something that we never even thought about,’ Lou Molli said. ‘We just never even thought about it, and then they just called us up. We’re just surprised and happy. He didn’t know anything about it until (that) morning when (an aide) went in and was getting him all dressed up. He wanted to know what the heck was going on.’

‘It was a surprise, no?’ Molli said. ‘This is awful nice, awful nice. America is great country. People called me ‘dumb dego’ when I a young man; no more dumb dego.’

Molli was born in the United States, but went to Italy with his family at age 5. He had to leave high school to help his family, which is why he never formally graduated.

He said he was given a chance to earn a diploma by answering one question.

‘They ask me, who is president of Italy, and I say Mussolini, but at that time they had a king,’ Molli said. ‘I answer Benito Mussolini – I no pass.’

As a young man, Molli was forced to fight in World War II under Mussolini, Italy’s fascist dictator.

‘Mussolini sent two men to my house. They just come in and say (come fight) or Mussolini kill you and your family, everyone,’ Molli said, crying. ‘So I go.’

He was forced to walk all over Europe and Africa, and was shot three times. At one point he was taken prisoner and held for 18 months in India. During his forced service, he learned to speak quite a few languages – and now he combines them into his own dialect, throwing in some English and Italian words as well.

‘He will tell the story about being in the army when a group of soldiers came up. I think they were American – he never said, but I think they were American – and he was fighting for Mussolini, so he had to shoot them all,’ Dobay said. ‘And every time he tells that story, he cries. He says ‘I can’t live with what I did.’ But what could he do? He was in the Italian army, and they were Americans. ...

‘It’s very, very hard for him to live with because he was an American citizen. He always makes sure people understand that he was forced to do it.’

Dobay said Molli has told her that he didn’t want to go into the war because he was still an American citizen, but that Mussolini’s men didn’t care.

‘He always says, ‘I love America,’’ she said. ‘He’s quite a guy.’

When Molli returned to the United States in 1953, the Secretary of State at the time gave Molli back his American citizenship.

He went on to work as a butcher until his retirement at about age 65, at which time he went to work as a janitor at an Episcopal church for several years.

‘My uncle used to take him to work, and when he came back (from the war) he lived with my uncle. (My uncle) used to take him to work and stay with him because then he couldn’t understand any English at all,’ Lou Molli said.

‘I work hard. Saturday I work 18 hours, Sunday I work 16 hours. I work all the time,’ Molli said. ‘My wife told me, ‘Someday you sick and nobody feel sorry for you.’ It didn’t matter.’

Their only child, Lou, went on to have four children. In a 23-year time period, Molli paid for each of them to attend college – on a butcher’s salary.

‘Education is important to him,’ Dobay said. ‘He keeps a lot of facts in his head. He’s always quizzing us about how many dogs are in the world and how many this and how many that. ... He has wonderful life stories. He’s quite a guy.’

And though Molli spent his war years traveling the world, meeting many kinds of people and learning from experience, he is most happy to be living in the United States.

‘Me saw people all over the world and where they live,’ Molli said, but ‘America is very lucky – and me lucky too.’