Mass. College Student Surprised by Marine Brother at Graduation After Not Seeing Him for 1 Year
"I was in utter shock, and couldn't believe he was actually standing next to me," Endicott College graduate Emily Booth tells PEOPLE
A Massachusetts college student was thrilled to be walking across the stage at graduation — but never expected to get a surprise visit from her Marine brother while doing so!
Emily Booth was about to accept her diploma from Endicott College President Dr. Steven DiSalvo at graduation on Saturday when the sweet surprise occurred.
In a video shared by the college, Emily had just begun walking towards the center of the stage to shake DiSalvo's hand after her name was called over the speaker. But the nursing major suddenly paused when she heard the Dean making another announcement.
"Here to assist President DiSalvo in handing Emily her diploma is her brother, Private First Class Ryan Booth," the Dean told the audience, as Ryan walked from the back corner of the stage to the front.
The crowd immediately erupted into applause at the sight of Ryan, as a visibly surprised Emily ran to embrace her brother, whom she hadn't seen in a year.
"I was in utter shock, and couldn't believe he was actually standing next to me," Emily, 21, tells PEOPLE of the surprise.
"Getting ready to walk across the stage, there was a brief pause where I was afraid I had messed up, or they couldn't find my diploma," she notes. "It didn't register in my head what was going on until my dean had read his name and I had turned my head to see him there."
Emily says she and Ryan, 19, "always had a good relationship and did a lot together" growing up.
In August 2020, Ryan left for the United States Marine Corp's boot camp — but her family had no idea that it would be the last time they would see him for a year.
"The first three or four months were definitely the hardest as we couldn't talk at all," Emily recalls. "We were able to mail letters back and forth so I was constantly in my college's mail center looking for the next letter from him."
By November, Emily says her family was finally able to communicate with Ryan, which "definitely made the distance a little easier."
"The first FaceTime call I received from him was in November and I remember dropping everything I was doing to speak with him for the short hour he had," she explains.
That same month, Ryan was set to graduate and the Booths expected to attend. However, COVID-19 put a halt to those plans.
"We were supposed to be able to go fly down to watch him graduate in November, but due to COVID restrictions, we were unable to fly down and he wasn't granted leave to come home," Emily says.
So she waited, patiently counting down the days until her brother would come home next for a "quick leave, in between assignments" during the first week of June.
"From my understanding, Ryan was supposed to come home for roughly 10 days," she explains. "Being told I was going to pick him up from the airport a few days after graduation was devastating."
"His high school graduation was during peak COVID, we missed his boot camp graduation, so this was the last real graduation we had together as a family and I wished he could've been there," she notes. "My school allowed two visitors at graduation, so when I gave the tickets to my parents I didn't expect anything at all."
After pulling off the epic surprise, Ryan helped President DiSalvo present Emily with her diploma.
The trio took a photo on stage before Emily returned to her seat and waited for the graduation ceremony to end.
"Getting back to my seat, I was still shaking a little bit and I couldn't wait for the ceremony to be over so we could all go be together as a family again," she recalls. "I have my school to thank for putting it together, as the majority of the planning was their idea to make this day extra special."
RELATED VIDEO: Marine Daughter Surprises Mom After 14 Months Apart
With graduation officially behind her, Emily now has her sights set on returning to Endicott in the fall to earn her Masters of Science in Nursing.
She hopes to one day become a family nurse practitioner and is currently applying to graduate residency programs, she says.
But first, Emily and the rest of her family will be soaking up every minute that they have with Ryan.
"Now that we're home, we have about two weeks to squeeze in all that we can before he heads out again," says the Stratford, Connecticut resident.
"I am so humbled that he was able to return home to us and pull this off," she adds.
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