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Hanau High School valedictorian Amber Maultbay and family talk with Amber's dad, 1st Sgt. Clifton Maultbay, via a video teleconference following Hanau's graduation Thursday. Sixteen Hanau graduates have a parent deployed. Pictured from left to right are: Brittany Maultbay, 10; Rhonda Maultbay; Amber Maultbay; and Kristin Maultbay, 14.
Hanau High School valedictorian Amber Maultbay and family talk with Amber's dad, 1st Sgt. Clifton Maultbay, via a video teleconference following Hanau's graduation Thursday. Sixteen Hanau graduates have a parent deployed. Pictured from left to right are: Brittany Maultbay, 10; Rhonda Maultbay; Amber Maultbay; and Kristin Maultbay, 14. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
Hanau High School valedictorian Amber Maultbay and family talk with Amber's dad, 1st Sgt. Clifton Maultbay, via a video teleconference following Hanau's graduation Thursday. Sixteen Hanau graduates have a parent deployed. Pictured from left to right are: Brittany Maultbay, 10; Rhonda Maultbay; Amber Maultbay; and Kristin Maultbay, 14.
Hanau High School valedictorian Amber Maultbay and family talk with Amber's dad, 1st Sgt. Clifton Maultbay, via a video teleconference following Hanau's graduation Thursday. Sixteen Hanau graduates have a parent deployed. Pictured from left to right are: Brittany Maultbay, 10; Rhonda Maultbay; Amber Maultbay; and Kristin Maultbay, 14. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
The Ruzicka family talks to father and husband, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Alan Ruzicka, via a video teleconference Thursday after Hanau High School's graduation. From left are the backs of Army Lt. Col. Diane Ruzicka, Jason Ruzicka, 11; and Hanau graduate Jennifer Ruzicka.
The Ruzicka family talks to father and husband, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Alan Ruzicka, via a video teleconference Thursday after Hanau High School's graduation. From left are the backs of Army Lt. Col. Diane Ruzicka, Jason Ruzicka, 11; and Hanau graduate Jennifer Ruzicka. (Lisa Horn / S&S)
And here are the fronts of the Ruzicka family, talking to father and husband, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Alan Ruzicka, via a video teleconference Thursday after Hanau High School's graduation. From left are: Hanau graduate Jennifer Ruzicka, Jason Ruzicka, 11; and Army Lt. Col. Diane Ruzicka.
And here are the fronts of the Ruzicka family, talking to father and husband, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Alan Ruzicka, via a video teleconference Thursday after Hanau High School's graduation. From left are: Hanau graduate Jennifer Ruzicka, Jason Ruzicka, 11; and Army Lt. Col. Diane Ruzicka. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

The image of his father in desert camouflage flickered on the screen.

Kyle Reed stood in a auditorium in Germany in his graduation gown, eyes glossy with emotion. He watched his father’s face sharpen and go grainy again, jumping and strobing from frame to frame.

“Congratulations,” Staff Sgt. Sydney Reed said from somewhere in Baghdad. “I wish I could have been there, buddy.”

Kyle had just graduated from Hanau American High School, and his dad had watched via Web cam. The two talked afterward through a video teleconference link.

Like roughly one-quarter of the 1,000 other graduates from military-run high schools in parts of Germany heavily affected by the war in Iraq, one of Kyle’s parents was deployed. Hanau’s Thursday night graduation was the first of a string of cap-and-gown ceremonies happening through Sunday during a poignant time of both celebration and absence. Sixteen of the 52 students graduating from Hanau had parents stationed in the Mideast, according to Department of Defense Dependents Schools spokesman Frank O’Gara.

A smattering of schools will offer two-way video links following the ceremonies, but all 14 schools most affected by deployments will Web cast the ceremonies and later distribute the recordings in DVD format. Last year, only two graduating classes in Europe had linked to Iraq for graduation.

It was certainly better than nothing. But a father in the flesh would be better still.

“I wish he was here,” Kyle said. “I know he can’t be.”

His mother, Rebecca, looked pleased and worried. Kyle would soon follow his father into the Army, and perhaps into Iraq.

“The men in my life stress me out,” she said.

The Hanau graduation was initially like most others. As the grads lined up in the lobby before the orchestra music swelled, young women blinked into mirrors and young men hollered at one another at locker room volume. One grad waved a program in front of her face, trying to fight back the tears.

“There are tissues on the chairs — tissues on the chairs,” senior class advisor Shelley Smith barked with brisk authority. “All right, guys, I can’t help you now. You’re on your own.”

Principal Terri Marshall would both warn against outbursts and quote Euripides. Students would speak of the future and of friends.

But this wasn’t any other graduation. Sharply dressed ROTC cadets helped seat the audience, chrome helmets shining. Students remembered parents serving in the sand.

“We have felt your continuous presence and love,” co-valedictorian Amber Maultbay said through sniffs and tremolo voice, “even if you weren’t physically present.”

The truest sense of what made this graduation different came at the end.

The Ruzicka family gathered around the camera. Dad, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Alan Ruzicka, was onscreen. Daughter Jennifer had just graduated. Her mother, Lt. Col. Diana Ruzicka, was there, too. But because of her own deployment to Honduras, she had only seen her husband for two months out of 2003.

Father and daughter talked about a new computer and new summer job.

“You look like you’re having way too much fun,” Dad said. “You look great. I love you all.”

“It’s great to see him again, and he’s there and not hurt or anything,” the grad said. “I’d rather have him doing his job rather than running away and not doing it. I miss him, and I’m very proud of him.”

Others graduated alone.

Jeri Thompson lived with her grandmother while her mother was in Iraq. She looked at the camera as if finding it hard to address the machine as her mother. And all these people were watching. From Baghdad, Staff Sgt. Annette Thompson called her daughter on the fidgeting.

“You nervous?”

Thompson asked about Jeri’s hair. It was not purple, Jeri assured her, but burgundy. Mom asked daughter to turn for the camera in profile. Jeri was expecting; Thompson should be back before the due date.

“I wanted to tell you congratulations, and I love you,” Thompson said from far, far away. “Hey. You look real good. You look all grown up.”

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