Overjoyed children experiencing surprise reunions with military parents returning from overseas deployment have become a YouTube sensation.
But Syosset High School seniors got to witness that experience firsthand at their graduation ceremony at Hofstra University Wednesday night.
Army Lt. Col. Richard Davis walked onstage at the David S. Mack Sports and Exhibition Complex, ready to hand his daughter, Stephanie, her diploma. When she spotted her father, she ran from the line and threw her arms around him for a minute-long hug.
Last July, Davis was deployed to the International Joint Command Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. He missed Stephanie’s 18th birthday, her prom and much more. He had been scheduled to return home next month.
“It made up for a lot,” Stephanie said of her father’s appearance at the ceremony. “He’s missed a lot. Missing graduation would have really affected me a lot. Sitting here, I was just wishing he was here. And the second I saw him I was just so happy.”
Davis said he was fortunate that people in leadership positions in Afghanistan understood that his daughter’s graduation from high school was a once-in-a-lifetime event that he didn’t want to miss. About two months ago he started to email the school district to see whether he could secretly take part in the ceremony.
“To have the opportunity to come back and see her walk across the stage meant a lot,” he said. “It was just a flurry of feelings. It’s all the emotions all wrapped up in one. Pure Joy. Sadness. Recognizing what you missed.”
During his 28 years in the Army, Davis often had to move his family, and they settled in Syosset three years ago after Stephanie completed her freshman year of high school in Maryland. His decision to re-deploy to Afghanistan for a year was actually a move to keep his family stabilized on Long Island.
“Soldiers, they’ve gotten a lot of credit for the past 12 or 13 years,” he said. “But what goes overlooked too often are the sacrifices that the kids make. She’s graduating from high school after she has gone to six different schools. So it’s tougher on them than it is on me.”
Stephanie was among 580 seniors who graduated from Syosset High School on Wednesday. Sitting with her classmates and her diploma, she wiped away tears when reflecting on the extended periods of time her father was away throughout her formative years.
“People recognize how much they do for our country and how much they do for us,” she said of military personnel. “But people don’t realize what their families go through and what their families have to sacrifice.”