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A graduation surprise

The importance of family and dedication

By Larshell Green
On December 11, 2017

Cara Miley (left) and Christopher Miley (right) embraced after not seeing each other since last February. The siblings who come from a family of Air Force members were reuinted during a graduation surprise that Cara Miley and Associate Director of Admissions Wendy Van Dalen organized  prior to "Fall Commencement" on Saturday, Dec. 9.
Larshell Green/ The Lion's Roar 

Although over 1,000 graduates were preparing to receive diplomas during the rescheduled “Fall Commencement,” a surprise was brewing backstage.

 Prior to the ceremony, at noon on Saturday, Dec. 9, graduate Christopher Miley was surprised by his sister Cara Miley. Cara Miley is active duty in the Air Force and chose to surprise Christopher in celebration of him completing his degree in accounting. 

Christopher shared his excitement and gratitude following the reunion with his sister.

 “I’m kind of really at a lost for words right now,” said Christopher Miley.  “My heart’s just beating really, really fast right now. With both of us being in the military, along with my dad, my brother, my entire family, I actually had to miss her college graduation. It was because of me having to be somewhere, and I could not get out. This was a huge surprise, and I’m really, really happy.”

Since Christopher Miley did not expect his sister to return in time for his graduation, he detailed what his original plan was.

“We were actually planning on Facetiming and one of my best friends whose here was like, ‘Don’t be surprised if there’s like 5,000 people in the University Center,’” said Christopher Miley. “I said that, if we can’t FaceTime, then we’ll take pictures. So I’m just a little shocked right now. Her basic graduation in February is the last time I saw her. So it’s been almost a year.”

Cara Miley explained the process that she went through in order to organize the surprise.
“All I did was contact Southeastern through Facebook,” said Cara Miley. “I had no real idea about who I would contact. I ended up getting in touch with Lori, and she was able to get me in touch with Wendy. And they were able to get this all set up for me. I’m very thankful for them.”

Associate Director of Admissions Wendy Van Dalen was asked to coordinate with Airman Miley to determine the best way to make the special moment happen. Van Dalen located Christopher near the accounting college’s line up and asked him to report to Room 125 of the University Center. He was told that his department head requested that he be part of a photo opportunity for the newspaper. 

The siblings are exactly 22 months apart in age. Christopher, 26, and Cara, 24, took two different paths when it came to their education.

 “We both have college degrees and are older,” said Christopher Miley. “She was a traditional student, but I went military first and then college. I’m still in. I’ve been in for almost five years now. I’m now in a guard unit in New Orleans.”

Van Dalen shared why she decided to assist Cara Miley in surprising her brother.
“This moment will be remembered by Airman Miley and her brother for years to come,” said Van Dalen. “It represents the true spirit of Southeastern, the spirit of family.  Our military make daily sacrifices for us, one of the many being that they are away from their families for so long.  If this is just one small way we can show our appreciation for their service, then we are happy to provide that moment. As I looked around the room during their meeting, there were tears rolling down so many faces.  Not only will Airman Miley and Christopher remember this for years, but so will many of our staff.  Creating moments like this is what makes our jobs so incredible.  We get to witness so many special moments in the lives of so many of our students.  These are the moments that matter.  Our students matter.”

Although Cara Miley admitted that she expected Christopher to have an emotional reaction to the reunion. She shared the larger message that she hopes people gather from their experience.

Cara Miley explained, “You need to be there for family, no matter what, no matter how far away you are, with anything. If you need to be somewhere, there are no excuses in between that. You need to be there for your family. That was why I did this.”



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