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DEGREE OF SUCCESS: DIPLOMAS AT END OF LONG ROAD FOR SOME

It took a bit longer than most, but Jay Curfew, 74, will finally graduate from high school this year.

"He's always wanted to get his diploma," said his wife, Fran Curfew. "He just never did."To some people, 74 may seem rather old to graduate, but it's not too old to this family. Curfew had an aunt who graduated from high school at age 85 and was working to complete college when death intervened.

Growing up in Jensen, Jay Curfew attended local schools in the Uintah Basin. But before he could finish, his father was paralyzed by a stroke and Curfew and his brothers had to leave school to take over the farm.

What with trying to rear a family and eke out a living under often difficult circumstances, Curfew never went back until last year.

World War II hit while Curfew was on the farm, and he went straight from the fields to the Navy. He was assigned to a mine sweeper, the USS Pioneer, which worked the Mediterranean.

On one occasion, the Pioneer's crew saved hundreds of sailors on the English ship HMS Rohna from drowning after their ship was hit by a German bomb.

After the war, Jay Curfew mined for a short time, then went into the oil-drilling business, which took him all over the world, including Venezuela, Libya, Iran, England, Denmark, Malaysia, Egypt and Brazil. Still diploma-less, he managed six rigs in the Sahara Desert at one time.

Curfew was about 60 years old when he left the oil fields, but he wasn't ready to retire. He became a real estate agent and broker, working in that business for about 10 years.

Still not content to rest on his laurels, he then began driving a truck, which he's still doing.

Curfew himself said it's "a great idea" to stay educated and active right up to the time one shuffles off this mortal coil.

Having already filled his high-school requirements, Curfew will graduate from the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center after taking classes at Salt Lake Community College. Though he's unsure whether he'll attend the June 6 graduation ceremony, "I'm kind of hoping to." - Alan Edwards

* * *

This is how Randy Astle titled some of his college admission applications essays:

"I am a nerd."

The top graduating senior at Olympus High has a 3.997 grade point average, plays saxophone in the band and pores over the books until midnight on week nights.

In short, there is a fair bit of evidence to support his thesis.

But hold on.

Nerdiness, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder. Student government officers, athletes and BMOCs (big men on campus) greet Astle familiarly in the halls. He has a social life. He has a wide circle of friends spanning traditional school cliques.

"I work pretty hard, and most of my friends are the same way - you know, homework every night," he said. "On weekends I try to have a date so I'm not a complete bookworm."

One could argue that a person with enough wit to make a self-deprecating joke about being a nerd could never actually be one. In fact, Astle and his academically minded friends see themselves as, well, normal.

"We look like normal people," he said. "We don't consider ourselves nerds. But at the same time we see how important grades are."

Astle, by the way, doesn't wear glasses. What's more, he eschews pocket protectors. He got his first A- last term - in calculus - but it didn't break him up.

In any case, grades are at least partially arbitrary yardsticks. Consider: Astle said he worked harder for that A- than in any other class that term. Consider further: One of Astle's best friends ruined her 4.0 with an A- in P.E. because she couldn't make foul shots.

Smarts alone won't get you there. Work, say academically achieving students, is the key. Oh, there's the occasional student who has a genius IQ and makes everyone else sick by breezing through classes without cracking a book, but in the vast majority of cases, they say, the students with the good grades are the ones whose noses are still buried in the Battle of Lexington long after their peers have buried their noses in their pillows.

"Toil is man's allotment," said Herman Melville, "toil of brain, or toil of hands, or a grief that's more than either, the grief and sin of idleness."

Idle is one thing Astle hasn't been. One reason his perfect academic record was soiled this year was because his workload went up while his time went down. Like many of his fellow students, he's been off on senior activities, he's gone on band trips, he's been enjoying the send-off into the adult world.

"We like to have fun," Astle said. "I try to balance (study) with social life and extracurricular things."

After an LDS mission, Astle plans to attend Brigham Young University on a National Merit Scholarship. He's unsure of his major. - Alan Edwards