When Tayla Carrigan, a freshman at St. Mary's Dominican High School in New Orleans, was called up on stage during a back-to-school dance to receive a surprise award from the student body, she was already shocked enough.
Little did she know, however, there was no real award. Rather, her mother and the school had arranged a surprise reunion with her father, Sgt. Kelly Carrigan, whom she hadn't seen since April when he was deployed to Afghanistan.
"I always wanted to do something special for my girls," Tayla's mother, Danielle Carrigan, told GoodMorningAmerica.com. "I just didn't know what because we never knew when he was coming home."
A serious knee injury forced Kelly home from his deployment early, stationing him only four hours away from his family at Fort Polk.
"It was totally out of left field," said Danielle, 35, of Metairie, La. "The doctor in Afghanistan sent him to Germany to get an MRI because he probably needed surgery, but then that doctor sent him home to Fort Polk."
Tayla and her younger sister, Logan, 11, were aware their father had been injured and moved to Germany, but had no clue he had been moved again much closer to home.
Seizing the perfect opportunity to surprise the girls, Kelly and Danielle decided to keep it a secret and worked with the school to arrange the perfect moment.
"The Dominican school body was just unbelievable," said Danielle. "They set everything up, they made up the award, they planned it all out. It was so perfect."
As Tayla's father stepped out on stage, there were more than 800 students singing "Proud to Be an American" in the background, going along with the school's patriotic-themed dance.
"It was very touching," Danielle said. "They were singing and clapping and crying. They were so supportive and wonderful. It was just so special."
Kelly will continue to be stationed at Fort Polk indefinitely until his injury is considered 100 percent healed, which is good news for the family as they'll be able to see him most weekends.
And as for the surprise moment that left both Tayla and her father in tears, Danielle said she couldn't have asked for better.
"No matter how it turned out, I wanted it to be a big deal for them," she said. "It met that expectation and then some."