(WBIR-Knoxville) Nearly 2,000 graduates in black caps and gowns received their diplomas at the University of Tennessee Friday, but one journalism and electronic media major had no idea her younger brother, who has been deployed for the past 16 months, flew home to surprise her on stage.
"I found out in September that I was going to be coming home and I originally only told my mother," said Dale Cockrell, Petty Officer 2nd Class. "When I got into the country I stopped using my phone. And I've been hiding at my mother's home for the last day and a half."
Cockrell has been aboard the Navy's U.S.S George Washington.
"We're working a lot, so we're trying not to think about it . You try to keep your mind occupied while you're out to sea and time goes by fast , but when you can come home it's worth every minute especially when you can surprise someone and do something like we did today."
Cockrell's family, along with his sister's friends and the University of Tennessee, worked together to orchestrate the surprise, which was broadcast on two big screens in Thomson-Boling Arena.
He stood hiding behind UT staff until his big sister's name was called.
"I was hoping she wouldn't fall, because I didn't want to have to try and catch her, hopefully she wouldn't fall off stage. So yes, it was a good reaction," said Cockrell.
Marvyl Cockrell was surprised, overwhelmed, and of course overjoyed to see her younger brother walk across the stage.
"He had sent me a message saying that he wasn't going to be here and there's always that little bit of hope. My parents said they had the front row and so I walked by and I didn't see him sitting there and I actually got super sad so I was kind of tearing up," said Marvyl.
Cockrell said she wasn't wearing her glasses so at first she wasn't sure if it was in fact her brother.
The entire crowd gave a standing ovation after it was announced the surprise had been orchestrated.
"It's so good to have him here knowing that everybody put in so much time to do it, because I know it must have been difficult and for all of them to keep quiet about it," said Maryvl. "It's just made all of the hard work that I've put, over the past four years, so much better."
Dale Cockrell will spend time with his family and friends until the day after Christmas, when he will return to Japan.
In addition to being a proud new UT alum, Marvyl is also a WBIR employee. A big congratulations to her on her graduation, and we're so happy that her brother was able to be here to surprise her!