DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A heartwarming moment played out in the hallways of Hillside High School in Durham this week. A surprise graduation ceremony for two students just days away from entering the Marine Corps.
Hillside's winter graduation was set for this past Monday, but the snowstorm canceled school. So, it was rescheduled for next Wednesday. The only problem was seniors Dominik Dixon and Thomas Bennett needed to be at basic training to be marines.
The moment came Wednesday in the halls at Hillside a milestone memory these two Hillside seniors did not see coming.
"And as your principal, I am so proud of both of you. Gonna miss you dearly," said Hillside principal Dr. William Logan. "We wanted to just show them our respect and pay them homage before they leave."
"It was actually a surprise. I did not know that it was going to happen at all," Bennett said.
Principal Logan pulled off the surprise as a way to honor the boys who completed all the requirements to graduate early next month, but have to miss the ceremony to begin boot camp in the Marine Corps.
"It means everything honestly," Bennett said. "Knowing that Dr. Logan really cares this much to this extent, it shows a lot of appreciation. We appreciate it a lot. That's all we can talk about."
Bennet and Dixon were both presented with diplomas. The crowd of Hillside supporters cheered and even hummed the melody of Pomp and Circumstance.
"Me personally, I was happy. I was excited to you know," Dixon said. "I got my diploma. I'm graduating, getting ready to go to boot camp."
Dixon and Bennett enlisted to serve in the military at a time the nation's armed forces are up against strong headwinds in recruitment. The Pentagon estimates only 2% of the over 20 million 17 to 21-year-olds have the desired combination of strong academics, adequate physical fitness and interest to serve.
The two Durham 17-year-old told ABC11 they signed up for the challenge and the experience.
Dr. Logan told the boys they're welcome to come back for the formal cap and gown commencement in June. But it's unlikely they will have time. They head to Parris Island, South Carolina to start Marine Corps boot camp on Monday.