Taylor Kirby already knew Saturday was going to be a memorable day. But the University of North Georgia graduate couldn't have predicted tears flowing even before her morning commencement ceremony began.

Kirby's father, Army Col. Norman "Chip" Kirby Jr., made a surprise visit on a short leave from active-duty military service in the Middle East.

Only Kirby's mother, Jan Kirby, knew her daughter and the rest of their family were in for a reunion five months earlier than expected. Both of Taylor Kirby's parents are 1993 alumni of UNG, and Chip was a member of UNG's Corps of Cadets.

As shocked family members smiled and ask questions about who knew what, Taylor Kirby stepped into her father's embrace and began crying tears of joy. Her father had told her he would be watching the ceremony online.

"I'm excited to graduate anyway," Taylor Kirby said. "And then he gets to be here."

Chip Kirby called it "the best experience of my life."

Jan Kirby said the family had expected her husband to be back for their son's high school graduation in the spring, but after his deployment in September, seeing him at their daughter's ceremony was originally doubtful.

"This is great," Jan Kirby said. "I really appreciate all the help he received getting here."

More than 600 students received their degrees at UNG's two fall commencement ceremonies Saturday.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and University System of Georgia Board of Regents member Erin Hames were the commencement speakers at the Dec. 15 ceremonies in the Convocation Center on UNG's Dahlonega Campus.

Separate commissioning ceremonies were held Dec. 14 for 26 members of the Corps of Cadets entering the armed forces as second lieutenants.

Copyright 2018 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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