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USO Helps Deployed Father Send Surprise Message to Son at NYU Graduation

Thursday, June 12, 2014

By Eric Brandner  

Pedro Cruz III wasn’t sure why the television cameras were approaching.

A moment earlier, he’d walked across the stage at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, to receive his construction management degree from the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering. When he reached the dean, Cruz was handed his diploma along with an iPad Air, a plaque and a folded American flag. 

As his classmates streamed across the stage behind him, the camera lights flicked on and reporters encircled the new graduate. Then he looked down at the iPad – queued up to a video of his deployed father – and pressed play.

“Hey son, surprise,” New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Pedro Cruz Jr. said in a pre-recorded video. “Right about now you should be on stage picking up your degree. I wanted to be the first to congratulate you on this special day.”


Shortly thereafter, the younger Cruz was talking to his father – like he does almost every day – reliving the moment.

“I think he called me before he even got back to his seat,” Cruz Jr. said in an email exchange with the USO. “I don't think he could have gotten a better finale for this day.”

The elder Cruz knew when he deployed to Kuwait that he wouldn’t be in New York to see his only son walk across the stage May 23. After some consideration, he approached USO Camp Buehring’s Jason Lewis about coordinating a graduation surprise to let his son know he was at least there in spirit. A week later, USO Camp Buehring center manager Tiffany Banks emailed Cruz Jr. and they started to formulate a plan.

“He wanted to do something special for his son, and the first place that he’d gone … was to the USO,” Banks said the day before the ceremony took place. “I’d gotten in contact with the graduation coordinator for NYU to see what we could do.

“The greatest part … was [the iPad] would be on an opening scene of his father on a video message being the first to tell his son as he’s crossing the stage ‘congratulations son for your degree. I am so proud of you.’

“[It’s] a very unique opportunity that I’m happy the USO could provide for him.”


One father’s gesture turned into a national story, as Cruz III smiled for the New York media and talked about what it meant to get a message from his dad – who filmed the video in front of an Apache helicopter – on one of the biggest days of his young life. 

“I was confused and had a feeling it may involve him,” Cruz III said in an email interview with the USO. “It was awesome. I was overjoyed.”

“To see the Joy on his face [in the photos taken at the graduation] is priceless,” Cruz Jr. wrote. “I find myself sometimes still [staring] at the pictures.”

Photos by Elena Olivo/NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering  

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