There was a mistake, Johns Hopkins University officials told Amanda Valledor at Thursday's graduation.
Her diploma had been misplaced, and the biomedical engineering student would have to wait, they said.
A few minutes later, a man came to hand Valledor the diploma. It was her father, Col. John Valledor, whom she had not seen since he left for Afghanistan last year. He had not been scheduled to return home until next month.
Valledor, 22, froze for an instant, then ran into her father's arms.
"It took a second to register it was my dad," she said in an email.
The two had stayed in touch through email and Skype over the past 14 months, but the connection was often unstable.
Col. Valledor, a 33-year Army veteran, had been slated to return to his New Hampshire home in June, but had convinced his supervisors to allow him to come a few weeks early to attend his daughter's graduation.
Amanda Valledor said she had been completely convinced by the ruse, which her mother and three siblings helped orchestrate. She was worried she didn't get a diploma because she had missed a deadline or failed to turn in some paperwork.
Col. Valledor even sent his daughter an email Wednesday evening saying how sorry he was to be in Afghanistan on such an important day.
Several hours later, they held each other close.
"I'm a soldier," Col. Valledor told Hopkins. "All you hear in the news is about bad leadership. I went to the Army to ask for the opportunity to share this moment with my daughter, and they allowed me to come. How's that for good leadership?"