Student receives surprise visit from military father at graduation

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By Anna Taylor

When Grace Reyes, 12, did not hear her name called Wednesday morning at Heartland Elemen­tary School’s fifth-grade awards ceremony to receive her achievement certificate, she had no idea her year-long wish was about to come true.


Grace’s father, Maj. Julian Reyes, is a U.S. Army reservist who has been stationed in Korea since July. After nearly a year of not seeing her father, Grace was not expecting him to surprise her at the awards ceremony. Reyes arrived home from Korea late Tuesday just for her.

Reyes was not expected to return home until later this week so he could attend graduation Friday for another daughter, Meleina, at John Hardin High School. Reyes said his command released him early so he could be home in time to see Grace’s ceremony, too.

Every day, as Grace had the opportunity to video chat with her father, she would remind him how badly she wanted him to attend the ceremony.

“Grace was persistently asking me when I’m coming and I told her I’m trying to do my best to be there before Meleina’s graduation,” he said.

Upon recognition for her achievements Wednesday morning, Grace received multiple awards, including an honor roll trophy for maintaining straight As throughout the school year. Each student was called to accept a certificate, but when it was Grace’s turn, Heartland Elementary Principal Emily Campbell said a special person had requested to give her the certificate.

“I didn’t know what they were doing,” Grace said after the ceremony. “I was like, ‘What?’”

Her father then appeared in the gymnasium and Grace immediately smiled and jumped into his arms.

The audience applauded the father and daughter as they shared an emotional reunion.

“On YouTube, I’ve seen some of those stories, but I didn’t think I was going to be one of them,” Reyes said.

On Tuesday night, Grace’s mother, Theresa, said she made sure Grace was in bed early so she would not see her father coming in. After he arrived, Reyes slept downstairs and kept quiet.

Theresa said when she learned he would be coming home early, she contacted the school to coordinate the surprise. Grace’s sisters, Michaela and Meleina, also were in on the surprise and said they couldn’t wait to see Grace’s reaction when she saw their father.

Being an incomplete family for nearly a year hasn’t been easy, Reyes said, especially with three children. He credits God for helping them get through the year.

“One thing that’s keeping us strong is our faith and knowing that God is taking care of us,” he said.

Grace said having a father who’s in the military is tough.

“It’s harder,” Grace said. “It’s hard to be without him.”

Reyes has served in Afghanistan and Korea. He will be home with his family until November and will return to Afghanistan.

Anna Taylor can be reached at 270-505-1747 or ataylor@thenewsenterprise.com.