Clark was a single mom when she enlisted in the Army in June 1994, first working as a lab technician, then earning her bachelor's and masters degrees, and eventually becoming a physician assistant. She and her husband, a field artillery technician named Byron Clark, are stationed near the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
This is Clark's second tour of duty in South Korea; she'll be transferring to work in the Warrior Transition Unit in For Hood, Texas, in June. So her son understood that getting his mom to Illinois for his graduation was pretty much impossible.
But when VanVooren went to a reception just before his commencement ceremony on May 11 in Redbird, Illinois, there she was.
"We were trying to do something in terms of a VTC—a video teleconference—from over in South Korea so I could be 'in Redbird,'" she told Stateside, the school's news service. "But unfortunately, they didn't have the capacity to do that."
Instead, the Army granted her a 10-day leave of absence so she could be at her only child's big event. A Stateside camera crew captured the look on VanVooren's face as Clark walked into the reception in uniform and hugged her surprised son. The news service posted a video of the reunion on YouTube on Thursday, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.
"I just want to thank the Illinois State faculty and staff for keeping my secret hidden for over a month," she told the teary-eyed crowd. "I am so appreciative of everybody's support in helping me with my little surprise to my kid. Thanks."It was a special day for her son. "I kind of had an idea, because I knew she wasn't going to miss my graduation, since she's said it for four years now," VanVooreen told a reporter from the school paper, his mom perched on his lap, their arms around each other. "It did catch me off guard, because they said we were going to do something but that she wasn't going to be here. So yeah, it caught me off guard."
"I am so very proud of him," Clark said. "My motivation behind it is just being his mom, that's really what it boils down to."
"This is the reason why I do everything I do," she added, gesturing at her son. "Day in, day out. Right here."
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