Young people, be careful what lesson you take away from this story, because it’s about someone who left high school before he graduated and went on to become very successful.
Learn instead the value of old friends, and how an educator can influence your life for half a century and more.
It’s the story of broadcasting entrepreneur Lowell Register, and how Saturday night he received his diploma 55 years after he left Warner Robins High School.
The most extraordinary thing about this event wasn’t that it caught the 73-year-old Register by surprise, or that the city of Warner Robins and the Houston County Commission both commemorated it with proclamations; it was that the man who presented Register with his diploma had been the principal at Warner Robins High when Register left back in 1954.
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It happened in an art gallery on the second floor of the Museum of Aviation near Robins Air Force Base, where the WRHS class of ’54 had gathered for their 55-year reunion.
Fred Waters, now 84, was in his late 20s when he moved to Warner Robins from Florida to take his first job as a principal. He and his wife, Betty, left Warner Robins in the mid-’50s but they have attended eight reunions of the class of ‘54 since then. They now live near Carrollton.
Register’s classmate Howard Wooden recruited Fred Waters to help with the ambush graduation. Wooden asked Register to present Waters with a special award during the reunion banquet. Register presented a package to Waters, who opened it and showed Register what it really was: a diploma with Register’s name and the date of May 31, 1954. Wooden then produced a cap and gown for Register to put on.
As a teenager, Register knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be a radio broadcaster. He practiced holding a pencil and speaking into it as if it were a microphone, which accounts for the sonorous voice he employs to this day. As a high school student, he contributed reports of the 1953 Warner Robins tornado and other news stories to Fort Valley radio station WFPM. Three weeks before graduation day, the station came to Register with an offer.
“The radio station in Fort Valley had lost one of their key people, and they in effect offered me a job, but only if I took it then,” Register recalled. “I basically abandoned the school for those last few days, and I did not show up for graduation because I was working.”
Register and his family own Register Communications, which operates Macon ABC affiliate WPGA, three radio stations and Register Data Systems. He has served as chairman of the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival and currently serves as chairman of the board of Georgia Public Broadcasting. He and his wife, Janice, live on Lake Tobesofkee in Bibb County.
Wooden, a retired recreational vehicle dealer who lives near Perry, said Register is “not a friend, he’s a dear friend.”
Back in high school, Register’s advanced radio work made him “a damned nerd,” Wooden said. But he added that today “we as a community ought to be thankful to have Lowell Register as a member.”
Fred Waters recalled that Register was a “top notch” student. Betty Rogers remembered the day that Register went into Waters’ office to tell him and the school superintendent that he was considering leaving school to start his career.
“He told them about the opportunity he had and they both told him to take it,” Betty Waters said. “I never knew my husband to tell somebody to drop out of school before or since.”
Register, who never went to college but attended technical school, called his new high school diploma “wonderful.”
“I’m going to display it in my office,” he said.