Thousands of friends, family, faculty and staff joined nearly 900 undergraduate students on Friday, May 11, at the CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey, to celebrate their graduation from Rider University.
During the ceremony, Tyshaye Smith, a psychology major from Mt. Holly, NJ, was brought on stage and surprised by the appearance of her sister Shamera, who is currently a specialist in the U.S. Army and has been deployed in Iraq for the past 10 months.
Tyshaye, unaware of the surprise about to be revealed, was summoned to the Commencement stage by Rider’s Provost Dr. DonnaJean Fredeen. As Tyshaye timidly walked to the stage, the audience gave her a round of applause.
Dr. Fredeen began, “You will all have to indulge me as I provide a little history lesson. Did you know that Rider was founded in Trenton in 1865 to help educate veterans returning home from the Civil War? In fact, most of Rider’s inaugural graduating class was comprised of Civil War veterans. And our present day Lawrenceville campus was originally acquired in the 1950s to meet the enrollment demands of World War II veterans. Today, as a proud Yellow Ribbon University, Rider is committed to serving the educational needs of active duty service members, veterans and their beneficiaries.
Tyshaye is very familiar with the many selfless sacrifices military families endure while their loved ones proudly serve our country. Tyshaye’s father Emmanuel served in the United States Army for 26 years, including a tour of duty in Iraq. Mr. Smith is here today to celebrate his daughter’s graduation and we’re very grateful for his service.
Tyshaye’s sister Shamera is currently serving our country as a Specialist in the U.S. Army with the 408th HRC based in Bayside, New York. Shamera has been deployed in Iraq for over 10 months, a long time to be away from home, friends and family.
I am sure Shamera’s deployment has weighed heavily on you, Tyshaye, as you pursued your senior year without your sister by your side. We would like to say thanks for all of the sacrifices you and your family have made in service to our country. To show our appreciation and in honor of your graduation, we thought we’d make sure your sister could celebrate this day with you. Shamera…….”
As Shamera walked out from behind the stage, the audience erupted in cheers, applause, and plenty of happy tears. Aside from a few members of Tyshaye and Shamera’s immediate family, many members of their extended family at Commencement were surprised too.
Dr. Fredeen then invited Rider’s President Dr. Gregory G. Dell’Omo, to join her at the podium. She said, “Shamera, on behalf of the Rider University family, we would like to present you with a challenge coin from Rider’s veterans’ program, and tell you just how very happy we are that you could be with us today.” President Dell’Omo passed the coin to Shamera in a handshake, and presented her with flowers.
Finally, Dr. Fredeen asked that all members of the military in attendance – both active and veteran – to stand and be recognized.
As Shamera and Tyshaye walked off stage still wiping their own tears, Tyshaye summed up her surprise very simply, saying, “Wow, you guys got me good!.”