TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (CBS 42) – A senior at Paul W. Bryant High School was in for the surprise of his life. On the Saturday before Memorial Day, Steven Turner Jr. would walk across the stage to receive his diploma, but someone very important in his life was missing.
His mother, Vera Turner is an officer in the Navy. She had been deployed to Guantanamo Bay, and Steven hadn’t seen her in 9 months. There was an empty chair next to Steven’s father inside the venue. Steven remained hopeful that his mother might somehow make it in time to watch him graduate, but as he took his seat and the program began, the chair was still empty.
What Steven and his family didn’t know, was that his mother was already inside the venue. She had been smuggled in under a blanket a few seconds after his family had gone to their seats. She warned her Steven months ago that she might not make it home for his graduation. “I told him, the family’s going to sit together so they can support you. So just go with it, okay? So he doesn’t know that I’m here. They don’t know that I’m here. I just want to support him, and it took an act of congress to get me on a plane,” says Vera Turner.
She’s been gone practically all of her son’s senior year of school. She says when she was deployed, Steven was an average C student, but that all changed over this course of the year. “The thing that impressed me the most about him was that he took the initiative his senior year and did something where I probably would have done all the work. The auditions and stuff for him. He took the initiative to do that himself and got himself a scholarship at Alabama A&M,” Vera explains. Steven has made straight A’s this year. He told our cameras that he plans to major in electrical engineering and minor in music when he gets to college.
“He’s just a wonderful person,” she says. “I’m just proud to call him my son.”
Steven was taken out of his spot in alphabetical order at the graduation. He says he was worried and nervous, but that he didn’t suspect anything out of the ordinary. Steven was last in line, waiting for an agonizing amount of time for his name to be called. “I thought she had forgotten my name,” he laughs. “I thought, what do I do?” Finally, Steven’s name was called and he was handed his diploma, but the school superintendent did not extend his hand for the standard handshake. “I just stood there and waited for a good five seconds,” Steven recalls, “and everyone just stepped back and they wouldn’t shake my hand and I thought, what’s going on? So I just walked past them, and when I passed the podium – oh my gosh – there’s my mom! She walked up on stage and I just dropped everything.”
Vera and Steven embraced while the audience screamed and applauded. Mother and son were guided down to where graduate photos were being snapped, and they took several together. “I’m getting teary just thinking about it,” Vera says. “It means so much to me. I wanted to see the look on his face because he knows Momma has always pushed him. I’ve always pushed him to be great, and he’s done it.”