A Columbia University student received an amazing gift at her graduation Monday: her father’s return from active duty in Afghanistan, the New York Daily News reports.

After Ruby Robinson shook hands with university president Lee Bollinger, her father made his surprise return, carrying a bouquet of flowers.

“Congratulations, young lady,” the 25-year army veteran told his daughter. Robinson immediately burst into tears and embraced her dad. “After I saw him, I couldn’t stop crying,” she later told the News. “I was definitely surprised. It was an amazing rush of emotions.”

Army Captain Keith Richardson retained his fatigues for the event. “I told her that I loved her and how proud I was of her,” he said. “It was incredibly emotional.” The moment captivated many in the audience, who cheered and snapped pictures.

However, it almost didn’t happen, the elder Richardson said. His general helped him get time off at the last minute. Richardson took multiple flights–including a 14-hour one from Kuwait to Washington D.C. He arrived in the city Sunday.

“I was really anxious about seeing my daughter,” said Robinson, currently serving a second tour in Afghanistan. He hadn’t seen his daughter since last December.

“I was relieved that he was OK and happy that he could be there for that,” she said. “It was pretty surreal to have him here.”

 

And it only gets better from there. Robinson’s wife plans to be on hand for Columbia’s university–wide commencement.

 

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