Graduation in a Time of War
This past Friday night, the graduating class of 2004 from Baumholder American High School in Germany had their chance to walk across the stage in front of friends and family and receive their diplomas. This of course happens every year at thousands of high schools. Millions of students have enjoyed that moment, but few have lived it like the seniors at Baumholder.
Many of the seniors have spent this final year in high school with one of their parents in Iraq. Think of how tough that must be. Think of all that a typical senior has to deal with during those last nine months -- earning their credits, choosing a college, prom, etc -- and then have their father be in a war zone. A very, very tough situation.
Then on top of all that, most of these seniors thought their fathers would be back in time to at least be at their graduation. They were supposed to start returning in April, but that didn't happen. Now they won't return until later in the summer. Think of how tough that news must have been for those students to take.
So graduation was held last Friday night, and although many of those seniors couldn't have their father in the room with them that night, the military tried to provide the next best thing.
Up above the stage a huge screen was erected. All around the ballroom the graduation ceremony was held in, cameras were capturing the whole event. And on that screen everyone could see a bunch of soldiers sitting in a room in Iraq watching a live broadcast of the ceremony.
When the link-up was made and that screen first showed those fathers, some of them holding up signs for their kids, there weren't too many dry eyes in the house. To see those men in uniform waving and smiling as they got to watch their son or daughter graduate was an incredibly emotional experience. Even more emotional was when each graduate walked across the stage, if the student had a father in that room in Iraq (not everyone did), the camera in Iraq would zoom in on their father. Then a teacher would read some words that the senior wrote for that night as the graduate stood and watched a television monitor and waved at their father thousands of miles away. Several waved and wiped away tears at the same time.
Overall, it was great that the Army went through so much effort to make the video tele-conferencing happen. There were a few brief times when the link was lost and we all worried that they wouldn't be able to reconnect with the soldiers. But I think those fathers saw most of the ceremony, and if they missed anything, dvds were also recorded to be sent off to Iraq. And from what I understand, the seniors and their familes got to talk briefly to the men back in Iraq after everyone else had left the ceremony. Again not as good as having them in the room in person, but it was obvious the Army was really trying hard to give those kids the next best thing.
Here are some photos I took that night:
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