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Senior Master Sgt. Bobby Booten chats with his daughter, Aviano High School senior Sade Booten, shortly after her graduation ceremony Saturday.

Senior Master Sgt. Bobby Booten chats with his daughter, Aviano High School senior Sade Booten, shortly after her graduation ceremony Saturday. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Senior Master Sgt. Bobby Booten chats with his daughter, Aviano High School senior Sade Booten, shortly after her graduation ceremony Saturday.

Senior Master Sgt. Bobby Booten chats with his daughter, Aviano High School senior Sade Booten, shortly after her graduation ceremony Saturday. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Sade Booten tries to keep her emotions in check Saturday as Dee Oleson, a school counselor, reads a message from Booten’s father during the graduation ceremony.

Sade Booten tries to keep her emotions in check Saturday as Dee Oleson, a school counselor, reads a message from Booten’s father during the graduation ceremony. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Forty-nine caps go into the air Saturday as the Aviano High School Class of 2005 celebrates the end of graduation at the Teatro Zancanaro in Sacile, Italy.

Forty-nine caps go into the air Saturday as the Aviano High School Class of 2005 celebrates the end of graduation at the Teatro Zancanaro in Sacile, Italy. (Kent Harris / S&S)

SACILE, Italy — Educators always try to make each student feel special on graduation day.

Sade Booten felt that way a little too much Saturday.

“In a way, I do feel special,” she said a few minutes before the Aviano High School graduation ceremonies at Teatro Zancanaro. “But I’d rather have my dad here.”

Senior Master Sgt. Bobby Booten is deployed to Afghanistan with other members of the 603rd Air Control Squadron. But he got to watch the ceremony live in Afghanistan, thanks to a military initiative that paired Army communication experts and private contractors to give deployed parents the chance to see their children graduate in Europe. Most of the graduation ceremonies are this weekend or Monday.

At Aviano, Sade Booten was the only one of 49 graduates with a deployed dad.

Lt. Col. Richard Kempf, commander of the Vicenza-based 509th Signal Battalion, was one of a handful of active-duty personnel on hand to make that hookup happen. Two contractors from Switzerland were also there.

“Ask her if it’s too much effort,” Kempf said with a shrug toward Sade, who was fighting back tears while talking with her father face-to-face after the ceremony — or at least face-to-video screen.

“It does seem like it at times. But I think it’s worth it.”

Kempf said signal units across Europe put in extra hours over an extended weekend to broadcast ceremonies. His guys had just attended a graduation in Naples and are set to do it again in Vicenza on Monday night.

Christof Maas, an employee of World-Television — a London-based company that specializes in digital broadcasting — said he had filmed three ceremonies in Germany and Naples in as many days.

Senior Master Sgt. Booten had a good show to watch. He and those gathered in the venerable Italian theater a short drive west of Aviano saw a handful of students, and one of their mothers, come to the microphone to share laughs and at least one emotional moment.

Salutatorian Bobby Keeling pointed out that many of Sade’s classmates knew how she was feeling because they’ve all grown up in an environment where at least one parent is often gone.

Dee Oleson, a school counselors, read a message from Booten to his daughter before she picked up her diploma. Both had trouble fighting back tears.

Eliana Sheets introduced the guest speaker: “Please welcome our assistant principal, and my best friend’s mom,” Susan Page.

Page, serving both roles, told the assembled parents that they should be proud, while urging the graduates to continue to make them feel that way. Her daughter, Evin, was class president.

And Susan Page and Principal Doug McEnery were made honorary members of the class — then given T-shirts to prove it.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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