VICENZA, Italy — It’s become a tradition for American high school students here to receive their diplomas in one of the city’s most historic venues.

And Friday’s graduation ceremonies at the Teatro Olimpico had plenty of the familiar. There were speeches. There was a band. There were more than a few tears. And there were gold-clad graduates who marched to the music, took seats on stage and then received their well-earned recognition.

But thanks to the efforts of the 509th Signal Battalion, there were also six very proud fathers who got to see the whole thing happen live from their camp in Iraq.

“It’s nice to know that even though he’s still in Iraq, he’s still supporting me,” said Nikki Evans of her father, Staff Sgt. Scott Beeson, who is with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. “But it would have been even nicer to have him here.”

That wasn’t possible, though. The 173rd Airborne Brigade deployed to Iraq in March and is still performing duties in the northern part of the country.

“It’s hard, but they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do,” said Mike Hammond of his father, Sgt. 1st Class Arthur Saltus and the rest of the brigade.

“It was really sad,” said Amanda Reedy, who had naturally thought when the year began that her dad, Capt. Gary Reedy, would be there to see her proud day.

He was there, sort of. Each of the six graduates got a chance to talk with their dads briefly after the ceremony. It was, of course, the first time they’ve been able to see them for months.

“It was sad he couldn’t be here,” said class valedictorian Chas Mayville of his father, Col. Bill Mayville, the brigade’s commander. “But knowing he was out there on the satellite made things better.”

Of course, there were plenty of people on hand to support those graduating in person. They didn’t quite fill the theater, which was designed in 1580 by famed local architect Andrea Palldio. The city says it’s the oldest covered theater in the world.

Mayville and salutatorian Lauren Lynn Hagel-Pitt gave speeches. Hagel-Pitt called her first overseas tour a “step out of the ordinary,” adding: “This is the kind of place that can change a person.”

Mayville elicited a long laugh in the hushed theater from principal Kathleen Cummings with a quick comment after receiving his diploma.

“He said to me, ‘I won’t be at school Monday,’” Cummings said. “‘But my mom will write me a note.’”

Each student had a chance to say a few words at the podium. Several teared up. One had trouble finishing and was helped by a classmate. Others passed along messages to those who couldn’t attend.

“… and Dad, come home soon,” Hammond finished. “We miss you.”

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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 40 years.

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