Utah soldier sets up sneaky homecoming to surprise sister ahead of graduation day

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HERRIMAN, Utah -- Graduation is a time to celebrate a huge accomplishment with those you love, and one Herriman High School student thought her big brother, who is serving in the military overseas, couldn't make it home for the big event--but it turns out she was in for quite a surprise.

Herriman High School seniors filed into the auditorium Wednesday morning for a dress rehearsal before graduation day, and they had no idea they were walking into a setup for their classmate Madison Hughes.

School administrators were in on the plan, and called her up to the stage to receive an "award." And she had no clue her brother, Nicholas, who is serving in the military in Germany, sent a video message to congratulate her.

At that point, Madison couldn't hold back the tears. But, little did she know, her brother was waiting backstage to deliver the fake certificate in person. The 21-year-old soldier didn’t want to miss his little sister’s graduation, so he concocted a plan with the help of his uncle.

He told his family he wouldn’t be able to visit for another few months, but then he secretly flew home Tuesday in order to arrive undetected at Herriman High School Wednesday morning.

“I didn't know he was going to be here,” Madison said. “He told me he wasn’t going to be able to come, and, you know, this is the best. I'm so happy right now.”

Pfc. Hughes said he is thrilled to see his sister enjoying the pomp and circumstance of graduation.

“My sister is actually the first one in the family to really walk across the stage,” he said. “ I was a troubled child. I just walked in, picked up my diploma and walked out.... I'm extremely proud of her for graduating on time.”

It was a happy reunion for the Hughes family, and Nicholas also got to meet his newest family member for the first time—his baby brother, 4-month-old Jacob.

Nicholas will be in Utah for a few weeks catching up with family before he returns to Germany, which is a visit his family is thankful for.

“This definitely means the world,” said his mother, Lisa Hughes, of the visit. “I know that everybody is so thrilled. I can just see it in their faces.

It's an early graduation gift Madison will cherish forever.

“He keeps telling me he's proud of me and he always makes me so emotional,” she said. “A lot has happened with us, and I’m so grateful for my brother. I love him so much!"