UIW student Heather JoMcNeil had worked hard to get to her graduation day and Air Force MSgt. NathanMcNeil didn’t want anything to interrupt his wife’s special moment. If anything, MSgt McNeil wanted to make the day even more unforgettable. See below for more photos and to continue story.

Unbeknownst to Heather, MSgt. McNeil had been working with administrators of the University of theIncarnate Word to plan a special graduation-day surprise. After seeing his wife cross the stage, receive her diploma and shake hands with UIW President Dr.Thomas M. Evans, he would emerge from backstage and greet his unsuspecting wife with a hug.

For all his work, Heather and the couple’s five children Cody, 17, Konnor, 16, Lia, 8, Joel, 6, and Regan, 2, were none the wiser leading up to commencement. MSgt. McNeil had kept up the façade that he was sad to miss his wife’s long-awaited graduation from the UIW School of Professional Studies with a Bachelor of Science degree.He assured her that he would be watching via livestream from his remote post where he had been stationed for the past 13 months.

When the day finally arrived and Heather’s name was called, Msgt. McNeil’s surprise went off without a hitch, and Heather’s special day was made all the better. The McNeil children were also on-hand to welcome their father home and called from their seats in the audience to join their parents backstage.

For the nearly 1,000other UIW graduates in the audience this day, the homecoming surprise was among the many highlights of the event they had dreamed of for so long. Find more Graduation coverage at uiw.edu/news and on social media at facebook.com/uiwcardinals, Instagram.com.com/uiwcardinalsand twitter.com/uiwcardinals.