This soldier surprised his daughter at her high school graduation after not seeing her for years

Facebook / St. Thomas Aquinas High School

Graduating from high school is an exciting time. But for Kayla Tillman, who hadn’t seen her dad — U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman — in years due to his various Army deployments, the approaching occasion felt bittersweet.

Anthony Tillman had spent deployments in countries such as Korea and Iraq. He’d served at a base 600 miles away from their home. As such, Kayla had become used to his absence. Still, her dad took care to break the bad news that he’d be unable to attend her graduation gently.

“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,” the high school senior told Good Morning America. “But inside, I was distraught.”

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Getty Images | Tom Pennington

However, her dad didn’t actually plan to miss this important day in his child’s life. Instead, he reached out to her school’s administrators to coordinate a surprise, and then made the 600-mile drive from Fort Benning, Georgia, to the site of the graduation in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

“We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘How do we do this?'” Margie Scott, the high school’s assistant principal, told Good Morning America. “But there was never a doubt that we were going to do it.”

With the plan underway, Tillman arrived at the graduation ceremony an hour before it was set to begin and waited backstage for his daughter’s name to be called. She had no idea he was there, so when an announcement was made — she was completely shocked:

“Kayla, we thank you and your family for the sacrifices you have made to defend our freedom,” the announcer said as Kayla made her way onstage. “All the way from Korea, please welcome U.S. Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman.”

A video that captured this truly special moment was posted to the high school’s Facebook page:

Kayla told 7 News Miami about how surprising her dad showing up was and how happy it made her, especially after thinking he’d miss the important moment:

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God he’s not coming,” Kayla told the news station. “He’s gonna miss the most important day of my life. But he showed up, so I’m happy now.”

As far as her initial reaction, she said she was “stunned”:

“When they called my dad up there I was happy, I was filled with joy and I was stunned,” she told CNN. “I couldn’t even move, I couldn’t feel my legs, I couldn’t feel my arms. I was overwhelmed with joy.”


Separation due to military deployment is common but often necessary within the U.S. armed forces, and often creates strain within families. says it’s normal for family members to feel concern, worry, loneliness and fear, and to become overwhelmed by additional responsibilities. A separation as long as the ones the Tillman endured can have lasting effects because of all the changes that have occurred in the meantime.

But reunions are the best, especially in military families! Here are some other recent ones that will warm your heart.

In this video, husband and wife Jordan Pruitt and Jamie Douglas, both lieutenants in the U.S. Army, reunite after separating for the better part of a year. The clip was posted to Facebook by AEDD Center and School, Army Health Readiness Center of Excellence:


Here’s another sweet YouTube video from last year, when Ellen DeGeneres reunited a military couple on her show and posted it at TheEllenShow. Check out how cute Navy supply officer Noah Copeland and his “The Ellen Show” superfan girlfriend, Maura Gonsalves, are here:

We could watch about 20 more of these kinds of videos all in a row, just to see everyone so happy when they come together again. And we’re not the only ones. It turns out, there are many of these videos online, and multiple websites collecting these happy stories together — including the Welcome Home Blog. So if you’re ever feeling sad about life, this might be the antidote.

Dogs are part of the family, too, and military reunions are just as heartwarming — if not more so, when servicemembers return to their canine pals. In this video, posted to Inside Edition’s account, servicemember Stgt. Tracy McKithern greeted her rescue dog Erby even before saying hi to her husband!

With Memorial Day coming up very soon, we all have our military heroes on our minds. This is a great time to remind ourselves of what veterans and active military members and their families give up in the name of doing their duty to the country they serve. Have a wonderful long weekend!


Good News, News, Parenting
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About the Author
Augusta Statz
I have a B.F.A. in Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I’m an avid writer with a genuine sense of curiosity. I feel the best way to absorb the world around you is through fashion, art and food, so that’s what I spend most of my time writing about.

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