Above: There to welcome Lt. Darius Hinton from deployment in Kosovo was father James Carter, his brother Caelb, fiance Briana Walker, sister Elejah and mother Mavis Carter.
by Carrie C. Causey
RALEIGH — Caleb Andrew Carter thought Monday would be just a normal graduation day, and he was already nervous about crossing the stage to receive his Heritage High diploma. But he never expected what happened next.
Caught in the moment, Caleb didn’t hear as it was announced he would be receiving his diploma with help from his brother, Lt. Darius Hinton, who had been hiding behind a curtain.
Hinton has spent the last year serving in Kosovo with the 112th Financial Management Detachment of the N.C. National Guard and wasn’t supposed to come home for a few weeks — or so his family thought.
“I didn’t know he was coming,” Caleb said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He said he was just going to watch on the online stream.”
He noticed people were already clapping but then the crowd went crazy, Caleb said, as he reached to shake Principal Mark Savage’s hand and saw his brother standing there.
“I was like ‘Is that you? Are you really there?’ My mouth was open wide and I was overwhelmed,” Caleb said.
His parents, James and Mavis Carter, later told him his sister, Elejah, was crying and his mother was yelling.
“Because she didn’t even know,” Caleb said. “No one knew.”
Hinton said he initially told the dean of students a month ago that he just planned to surprise them by showing up in the crowd and sit with his family. Hinton is the oldest of four children and Caleb is the youngest.
“I knew I was coming home around the same time (as the graduation),” Hinton said of his idea Tuesday. “I was going to sit beside my parents. … This was their thing, and I just participated.”
It was the staff at Heritage High who came up with the plan.
In an e-mail to The Wake Weekly, Deirdra Willams, Dean of Counseling and Student Services at Heritage, said having someone next to the principal is “highly unusual for such a formal occasion.”
“But we consider ourselves a family at Heritage High and we love our students like they are our own, so when Darius contacted me, I spoke with my principal and he immediately agreed we should make it an even more special moment for Caleb,” Williams wrote.
While he didn’t see his family’s reaction from the stage, Hinton said he could hear his mom in the crowd.
“She had made a pact to Caleb that she wouldn’t do anything unauthorized,” Hinton said he heard later. But she was the first to recognize him and she started to scream.
Hinton had another surprise for his family — his recent engagement to his girlfriend, Briana Walker.
“It was really special for me,” Caleb said. “I thought it would be a normal day and didn’t expect it to be so exciting.”
Following the ceremony, the newly reunited family celebrated the graduation, homecoming and Hinton’s engagement at Olive Garden.
Caleb plans to attend Campbell University this fall.