Watch the touching reunion here:
Video credit: Good Morning America
Graduations are some of the most important life milestones in a student’s life and naturally, one would want one’s family and friends to witness it. But the high school senior Kayla Tillman approached her coming graduation with mixed feelings because of her father, US Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman who had informed her that he wouldn’t be able to leave Korea to attend the ceremony at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The last time she was with her dad in person was just before entering eighth grade. While they kept communicating through FaceTime, the physical absence still hurt. Still, she had gotten used to keeping a brave face and informed her dad she understood his inability to be there for the important events in her life.
Kayla told Good Morning America, “When he first called me and told me, I was pretty calm about it because I didn’t want to make him upset that I was upset. But inside I was distraught.”
But unknown to Kayla, her dad was trying to move heaven and earth to be physically present when his daughter graduated.
And he made it in the nick of time, in fact, with just an hour to spare. He asked the school administration if there was some way he could spring a last-minute surprise during the ceremony and they thought it would be best to do it as Kayla was on-stage receiving her award.
Kayla stepped onto the stage and received her award but as she was starting to walk back to her seat, school officials made an important announcement:
“Kayla, we thank you and your family for the sacrifices you have made to defend our freedom,” the school official began.
“All the way from Korea, please welcome U.S. Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman.”
Overwhelmed with emotion, Kayla could only cry as she embraced her dad for the first time in more than four years.
“I was like, ‘No, that’s not my dad.’ I was shocked,” she later recalled to Good Morning America.
“I didn’t know what to do. My mind just went blank. I just went and hugged him and was full of joy.”
When he managed to attend his daughter’s graduation, the realization about just how much he had missed of his daughter’s life hit him hard.
“When they started playing the graduation music, tears just started coming down my eyes because right then and there I realized how much of her life I’d missed,” he said.
“I didn’t realize the stuff my kids were going through by me not being there physically.”
“It was rough on her and I’m proud that she finished school while dealing with the fact that her dad was in the Army and not there like her friends’ dads were,” Tillman said.
“For the situation, we were in, I’m so proud of her.”
Kayla, who also has a sister, aged 15, said they were both used to their father’s long absences. Speaking to CNN, Kayla said that they were together for only a few hours before he had to fly out again.
“He left the same night. I saw him for a couple of hours. We had dinner,” she said. “Every time I see him, our time is very limited.”
However, Tillman is planning to take extended time off to have some much-needed quality time with his daughters.
“I want to spend all my time with my girls,” he said.
Kayla hopes to start college in the fall in Louisiana. She plans to major in biological sciences and hopefully, one day become a doctor.
“Military Mom Dresses Up As A School Mascot For Tearful Surprise After She Came Back From Overseas”