Soldier-Sister Reunion at Commencement Elicits Cheers, Standing Ovation

The brother and sister embrace after reuniting at commencement.

The brother and sister embrace after reuniting at commencement.

For sixteen months, UT graduate Marvyl Cockrell had been missing her younger brother Dale, who is stationed aboard the Navy’s USS George Washington.

Today, Dale made a surprise appearance at the university’s commencement ceremony. As Marvyl crossed the stage, Dale stepped out of the wings to meet her.

She had left her glasses at home and couldn’t see him at first. But as recognition dawned, a stunned Marvyl covered her mouth with her hand. Dale wrapped his arms around his sister, picked her up, and carried her off stage, which brought the audience to its feet in applause and cheers.

“I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t walk,” a teary-eyed Marvyl said later. “I almost couldn’t believe what was going on. I’m going to be talking about my graduation for a long time.”


Marvyl Cockrell was one of more than 1,800 undergraduate and graduate students who received their degrees from UT this week. Commencement ceremonies were held Thursday and today.

Cockrell, who received her degree in journalism and electronic media, and her family didn’t expect Dale to be home from Japan until spring. But he received special leave so that he could see his sister graduate today. He will return to his post the day after Christmas.

“She’s worked so hard to be where she is right now,” Dale Cockrell said of his sister. “It’s a milestone in her life. It means a lot to have the whole family together for this.”

A student rejoices as he walks across the stage.

A student rejoices as he walks across the stage.

Today’s commencement speaker was Jacob Hayes, an American Studies major from Jackson, Tennessee. He was selected as speaker through a competition among members of the class of 2013.

Hayes exhorted his fellow graduates to use their education and experience at UT as a launching pad to make their mark on the world.

“President Kennedy once challenged this nation to do great things, not because they were easy, but because they were hard,” he said. “Today we must meet that challenge. We must take the tools we have earned here, exceed expectations, and solve the unsolvable. We must take the tough task before us and see it through to the end.”

He added: “We are the next generation of leaders, the next CEOs, the creators of new innovations and groundbreaking research. We are all the torchbearers that will lead this country in the future.”



Lola Alapo (865-974-3993,