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Soldier returns from Middle East to surprise daughter at UNG graduation
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Taylor Kirby, a biology major at the University of North Georgia, cries when her father, Chip Kirby, a deployed Army colonel, surprises her at graduation on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

A University of North Georgia student found herself with an extra guest attending her graduation on Saturday when her deployed father surprised her and the rest of the family at the ceremony on the school’s Dahlonega campus.

Col. Norman B. Kirby Jr. made plans to surprise his daughter Taylor Kirby two weeks prior to UNG’s graduation after his superiors granted him permission to fly back home from the Middle East. Norman Kirby was originally set to fly back in May for his son’s high school graduation, but when the prospect of seeing Taylor Kirby’s graduation came up, his colleagues were more than supportive.

“The person I work for, my boss, she was in a meeting and one of my peers had an opportunity to do this for a different event,” Norman Kirby said. “We were sitting in a room and I brought up my son and I said, ‘well hey, I can only do this once and my daughter’s graduating in about two weeks.’ She stopped, looked at me and said ‘put your leave form in. You’re going home.’ It just happened just like that. It wasn’t even thought out. I just had to react. As soon as she said ‘go home’ I put the leave form in, everybody supported me, and I was out of there in less than two weeks. It was really just because my leadership supported it more than I pursued it. It was awesome.”

The surprise was nearly ruined when the charges for the plane ticket appeared on Norman Kirby’s wife Jan Kirby’s bank statement, but she kept the secret in the weeks leading up to her husband’s surprise appearance.

“Oh, it was so hard,” Jan said. “It’s been two or three weeks. He started it and I saw he had a charge for airplane tickets, and I thought ‘oh gosh, he’s already bought his tickets to come home for our son’s graduating in May.’ And he was like ‘no,’ and I was like ‘what?’ It was a surprise to me. So then we started this and the school got involved, which was a big help.”

Taylor Kirby said up to the moment of her father’s reveal she had no idea he was going to be there, having been told he’d be watching remotely through a livestream.

“He just messaged me this morning saying he had the website pulled up to watch it online, so I had no idea,” Taylor Kirby said. “My mom didn’t tell me anything. It’s nice that she lives far away so it’s been easier to hide.”

Prior to graduating, Taylor attended UNG for four and a half years as a biology major. Both of Taylor’s parents graduated from the college in 1993 when it was known as North Georgia College and State University. Norman Kirby said she made the decision to come to attend the same school without prompting from her parents.

“Taylor’s a real special person,” Norman said. “So proud of her. She’s come a long way. Growing up in the military is a very, very demanding lifestyle for the kids, actually. They have to constantly move and separation from family is quite constant. But she persevered through it all and we were blown away when she selected North Georgia to be the college of her choice.”

Taylor Kirby says she was already excited at the prospect of graduating, but her father’s surprise elevated the day for her.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Taylor Kirby said. “I wasn’t expecting it at all, but I’m very happy. It made my day 100 times better. I’m gonna cry again.”

Norman Kirby is set to fly back to the Middle East on Tuesday, and will return in May for his son’s graduation, then complete his deployment in September of next year.