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A military dad gave his son the surprise of a lifetime by presenting him with his diploma at his graduation from Central High School earlier this week.
Anthony Hightower’s father has been deployed overseas with the Army and usually only sees his son about once a year, according to Hightower’s mother, Kristil Hightower.
The father didn’t want to be named for security reasons.
Hightower said she approached the district and asked officials if they would allow Anthony’s father to surprise him by presenting his diploma to him on stage, saying that it would be a powerful moment for both men.
“He’s (Anthony’s father) been defending the country and with that comes sacrifice,” she said. “I just felt it would be a gift for both of them, something special that they would be able to share.”
Anthony had known that his father was back in town before the ceremony but didn’t know that his father would be on stage to present his diploma.
Hightower said Anthony’s father initially surprised him at home, showing up when Anthony was sick in bed.
The surprises weren’t over, though.
Anthony’s dad was given a gown and walked into the ceremony along with school staff, Hightower said.
Just before Anthony’s name was called, Hightower said a school official made an announcement that his father was returning from deployment and would be presenting his son with his diploma.
The two men embraced in a moment that Hightower described as a “beautiful sight to see.”
“I actually didn’t realize that he (Anthony) had some tears coming down until my mom pointed it out,” she said.
Hightower said the entire venue rose in a standing ovation.
“To see the two of them be able to share that moment together, it was unforgettable,” she said. “There’s really no words to explain how wonderful that moment was.”
Hightower said Anthony’s father has struggled with not being able to attend all of his son’s life events, adding that that’s what made the surprise so special for everyone involved.
“His father makes a great effort to get out and see him,” she said. “It was really tough for him that he couldn’t come down here right before Christmas.”
She said it’s been a tough road for all three of them but that Anthony has proven to be resilient in the face of adversity throughout his life.
She described her son as well-liked, highly respected and an excellent basketball player and track athlete.
Anthony has spent “countless hours” tutoring other students and devoted early mornings, off-seasons and summers to basketball training, she said.
She said Anthony hasn’t made a decision about his next step but has received scholarship offers from Ottawa University and South Mountain Community College.
No matter what his next step is, Hightower said she just hopes her son is happy.
“It doesn’t matter whether he’s a basketball star or a track star,” Hightower said. “I want him to be happy and be a functional member of society. I want him to be able to take care of himself, and if he decides to have a family, I want him to be able to take care of his family.”
Hightower said Anthony would be taking the next few days to rest and “take everything in,” but they plan to discuss and solidify his future plans soon.
Hightower said no matter what Anthony chooses, she’ll support him as long as he’s doing what’s best for him and not what other people want him to do.
“There’s no pressure here. I just want him to be able to enjoy life,” she said. “If he can do that, I think by far he’ll be successful.”
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