Kayla Tillman got much more than a diploma at her high school graduation. The student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida also got the surprise of a lifetime when her father, who has been stationed overseas for ten years, popped up to witness her big day.
As reported by 7 News Miami, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman was deployed in Korea since the time his daughter was in the fourth grade. He’s missed much of her high school years. But for her special day, the soldier decided to return home.
“I’m a tank commander. I have a combat MOS, and I always think about them, when I’m out there doing my job, to make sure that I make it back safe to them,” Tillman told 7 News. “That was really my motivation, thinking about my daughters. I gotta go home to them.”
The Florida teen realized her dad made it to graduation when she was called up on stage. “Kayla, we thank you and your family for the sacrifices you have made to defend our freedom,” a school official says as the graduate looks on, puzzled. “All the way from Korea, please welcome U.S. Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman!”
The staff sergeant and his daughter then share a warm embrace on stage as onlookers cheer. Kayla told news reporters that she was initially upset at the thought of her father not making it to graduation. But said, “he showed up, so I’m happy now.”