The loud commotion during Caroline High School’s commencement ceremony came to a standstill after Kailey Grey’s name was called Friday evening. As the graduate stepped off the stage with her diploma, there waiting for her was her father, Marine 1st Sgt. Ashley Grey.

She hadn’t expected her dad to be there. She almost didn’t recognize him until he reached out for her as she neared the last step.

It had taken four months to arrange the surprise greeting. The only ones who had known about the plan were Caroline High School administrators; Grey’s wife, Cathy; and his mother, Carolyn Lane.

Ashley Grey flew in from Central America on Thursday, after getting a four-day clearance from his boss. He was deployed last November and told his family he would try to arrange to be back for the May graduation, but he doubted he’d be able to.

“Kailey kept saying all week that all she wanted was to have her dad home for her graduation,” Lane said. “She texted Ashley every day this week wishing he could make it.”

Before the ceremony, he phoned his daughter from the back seat of his mother’s car, where he was lying low. “I told her I would be watching the live stream online,” he said.

During the event, he hid behind the stands in the University of Mary Washington’s gymnasium until his daughter’s name was called. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the proud dad said. “I’m deployed and she’s graduating. I just wanted to surprise her.”

Kailey Grey said it was the best surprise that could ever happen. “When I tell you the military graduation surprises are mind-blowing—they are,” she said in a Facebook post.

Back in January, Ashley Grey reached out to his mother to help arrange the surprise with the high school, while he worked with his boss to get time off to fly back to Virginia.

He will return to Central America on Sunday, which makes it a short visit, but one that made for a lasting memory for the family.

Kailey Gray, who was crowned Caroline’s homecoming queen, will attend Virginia Wesleyan University in the fall.

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