FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - While graduating can be an unforgettable moment for anyone moving on to the next phase of life, it can be especially hard for those with loved ones fighting overseas.

Kayla Tillman’s father has been deployed for much of her life — fighting for our freedom abroad.

“I was deployed in Korea,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman, he said of his last deployment. “I missed most of my daughter’s life, high school life, probably since fourth grade.”

Nearly 10 years away from his family, which also included two deployments to Iraq, Anthony never stopped thinking about what he had to come home to.

“I’m a tank commander. I have a combat MOS, and I always think about them, when I’m out there doing my job, to make sure that I make it back safe to them,” he said. “That was really my motivation, thinking about my daughters. I gotta go home to them.”

He added that the hardest thing about being deployed is not being able to be there for his children when they needed their father most.

“When they call me crying, when I can’t fix something – be there to fix it for them,” Tillman continued, “I think that’s one of the hardest things – just not being there when they really need me.”

At the St. Thomas Aquinas High School graduation in Fort Lauderdale, the unsuspecting teen was called onto the stage for the surprise of her life.

“Kayla, we thank you and your family for the sacrifices you have made to defend our freedom,” a woman on stage said. “All the way from Korea, please welcome U.S. Staff Sgt. Anthony Tillman!”

To say Kayla wasn’t expecting her father’s return was an understatement, as the two shared a long embrace on stage to a standing ovation from the crowd.

She had just one word to describe her father’s unexpected return home.

“Surprising!” she said.

Initially, Tillman told his daughter he wasn’t going to be able to make the ceremony, but he ended up proving he wouldn’t miss this moment for the world.

“I was upset actually. I was like, ‘Oh, my God he’s not coming. He’s gonna miss the most important day of my life,” Kayla said, “but he showed up, so I’m happy now.”

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