By Mary O’KEEFE
magine sitting at your high school commencement ceremony. You are nervous, ready to take that long walk across the stage to get your diploma, shake the hand of the administrator and then walk into your future. Happy feelings of accomplishment are mixed with fear of the unknown and melancholy about leaving old friends. For many, the strength that helps make those steps easier is the knowledge that family is in the audience and their support is steady and strong.
Now imagine that as you wait for your name to be called, you think about and miss the one person not there – a brother who is serving overseas. That is what Burbank High School senior Emily Chacon was dealing with as her commencement began at Starlight Bowl on Friday.
But as she stepped up to get her diploma, from behind the stage walked her brother, Jorge, a U.S. Marine on active duty.
As Jorge walked onto the stage and saw his sister, he did not hear the crowd cheering him or see them stand. He didn’t even notice the tears in almost everyone’s eyes as he walked toward his sister to congratulate her on graduation day.
“We talked about [Emily’s commencement] last year. I reminded [Jorge] of it this year and he said it was not possible for him to make it [home],” said Jorge Chacon Sr. of his son’s surprise visit.
Jorge traveled from Baghdad to Burbank without telling anyone in his family. His father had no idea his son would make it to the ceremony until he heard that knock at the door.
“He knew my knock,” Jorge said. “The minute he heard the knock he knew it was me. When he opened the door he already had tears in his eyes.”
“I was having dinner. I [heard the knock] and got up and ran to the door,” Jorge Sr. said.
Jorge is a corporal with the U.S. Marine Corps. He has served for three years and 10 months. He currently provides security for embassies all over the world and travels extensively. He graduated Burbank High in 2007 and made a choice to forego college to get a job and help with family bills. When finances were stronger, he decided to enlist, like his brother who also served as a U.S. Marine. Jorge said he learned a lot from his older brother about what life in the military was like and decided to follow in his footsteps. Yet a life of service often means missing important family moments, like a graduation. Jorge was happy he could surprise his sister.
He had no idea that as he walked through the back entrance of the ceremony at the high school there would be such a show of emotion from the audience.
“I just had tunnel vision for my sister,” he said.
He didn’t notice the audience stand when he walked out and was overwhelmed by the reaction after the ceremony as people praised him and thanked him for being there.
“It was the most beautiful thing. I didn’t expect it,” he said. “I just came for my little sister.”
And Emily’s reaction was perfect.
“It was priceless. She kept saying, ‘You’re here. You’re here,” he said.
Jorge Sr. was backstage with his son. He had kept his arrival quiet from the rest of the family.
“It was very emotional,” he said of his son’s walk onto the stage. “The audience stood and cheered.”
The arrangement began with a call to Jorge Sr.’s boss Steve Goldsworthy from Davis Wholesale Electric.
“It was my boss who knew about it 24 hours before [his son arrived]. He knew all the right people and started calling and texting. He [contacted] the Burbank Police Department and we got in through the back way [to the commencement ceremony],” Jorge Sr. said.
It took some planning, but it was well worth it – not just the surprise but also the time the family has been able to spend together. Jorge has not been home in a year and a half and is taking this opportunity to catch up with family and friends.
Jorge’s brother is retired from the U.S. Marines but still works at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as security.
“Are you kidding?” Jorge Sr. said when asked what it is like to have two U.S. Marine sons. “It is the greatest honor to have two sons protect the world.”