Jordyn Nickolson, 18, was one of hundreds of graduates at Marysville Pilchuck High School Friday night. As the group waited in the school's auditorium, a special delivery waited backstage.
"She wanted me to be there. She talked about how upset she was going to be that I was going to miss it," said Jordyn's brother, Justin Mickelson, as he clutched a bouquet of flowers. "This is more nerve-wracking than (being stationed overseas)."
Mickelson, a petty officer in the US Navy, is home on a quick break from his second deployment to Afghanistan. He has been working as an intel specialist there since Christmas, he said.
When he realized he might be able to schedule a quick trip to coincide with his sister's big day, he enlisted the help of friends. (Call it: Operation Graduation.)
"Besides my grandparents and a few friends up in Stanwood, no one knows I'm home, so it'll be a big surprise to my sister as well as the whole family," Mickelson said.
Shortly before graduation was scheduled to start, close friends helped Mickelson sneak backstage into the school's auditorium. It entailed two "lookouts," and a five minute walk through the school's campus.
The surprise, however, was nearly ruined when his sister nearly came out of a room after Mickelson.
"Oh, eeeee!" said one of the lookouts. "That was Jordyn! That was his sister!" said the other.
Mickelson, though, safely snuck into the school's auditorium and waited for his cue. The principal belted out to the senior class, "the moment you've been waiting for is about to arrive!"
The principal then called Jordyn - the school's "athlete of the year" - to the stage, telling the crowd a "motivational speaker" was going to speak to them.
That speaker, this time, came in camouflage. He snuck up behind his sister like a military stealth mission.
As Jordyn turned around, her mouth gaped open. She embraced her brother as he said, "how are you?"
The audience stood to their feet, cheering. Jordyn's mother, Jewel, joined the pair on stage in a large, long, tearful embrace.
"I had no idea! I thought he wasn't going to be home until November, so it was a really good surprise," Jordyn said, wiping tears from her face. "I'm obviously going to spend as much time as I can with him."
"He's my hero," she added.