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Family, teachers, friends help graduate’s Marine brother surprise her for New Palestine graduation

NEW PALESTINE, Ind. -- Audrey Vanderwal had come to accept the idea of her older brother, Sgt. Seth Vanderwal, not being able to watch her cross the stage and receive her high school diploma. He and his family were in the process of moving to South Carolina after his re-enlistment in the Marines.

New Palenstine High School’s graduation was set for May 31, and on top of preparing for graduation parties, ceremonies and the future, the family was also planning for Seth and his wife, Sam, to give her the surprise many military families hope for.

“Audrey was disappointed that her brother wouldn’t be able to come to graduation. We are a close family. She understood, but was disappointed and accepted it,” said Jeff Vanderwal, Audrey’s father.

Seth had already been on two deployments, one in Turkey, the other in Qatar, and had since been a part of the decommissioning of the EA-6B Prowler. He was now changing duty stations to work on the F-35 and move with Sam and their two children to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in Beaufort, South Carolina.

While Audrey finished her final days of high school, she was receiving messages from her brother and sister-in-law about how long the move was taking, and everything they were busy doing.

“It’s very hard to keep a secret in a smaller town. Seth’s wife, Sam, teachers, friends and several other people had a hand in pulling off the surprise,” said Jeff.

On the day of Audrey’s graduation, teachers helped hide Seth so no one would see him and spoil the surprise.

Her boyfriend, Nick Rusche, took a picture with Audrey to help distract her as her brother walked in. After their picture, Audrey turned to see Seth in uniform standing with arms wide open. The look on her face is full of surprise and happiness as she runs to give him a hug.

“[Seth and Sam] both made it and surprised my daughter minutes before graduating. Great moment, and great expression on her face,” said Jeff. “She was totally taken by surprise.”

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