Graduation is an exhilarating moment in a student’s life. Draped in a cap and gown, years of dedication and hard work culminate in a prestigious ceremony.
Most students pack the house with family and friends, but not all are as lucky. Western Michigan University graduate Emily Switalski was missing an important member of her family at her college graduation.
Emily’s dad, Comstock Township Fire Chief Ed Switalski, was killed in the line of duty.
Switalski’s road to graduation wasn’t an easy one. In June 2017, her father was responding to a call on the interstate when he was hit by an oncoming car.
“I knew going into the ceremony that it was going to be a very bittersweet day for me,” Emily told WOODTV. “Just because when I was going into the year originally I didn’t think my dad would be missing my graduation.”
With her mom and her sister in the audience, she felt like her father was with her in spirit.
“There’s a song, ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles, that we played at his funeral,” she said. “We always say whenever it comes on, ‘He’s with us.’
“And my mom picked me up to take me to my ceremony, and on the radio was the song. And so, just to get in the car to go to the biggest day of my life and hear that, I knew he was truly with me.”
It wasn’t the only time she would feel her father’s presence on her big day. Just as she was walking onto the stage to accept her diploma, she noticed something unusual.
Members of her father’s fire station attended her graduation.
my dad was killed in the line of duty 10 months before i graduated college so guys from his station came and surprised me at my graduation pic.twitter.com/MsPGNj0WQh
— Em Ski (@emily_ski1) April 29, 2018
When Emily entered to cross the stage, she was surprised to see her mother and sister were still sitting. That’s when she noticed who was standing beside them.
“I looked over and I saw the firemen that came out to support me and make my day a little bit more special since my dad couldn’t be there,” Emily told WWMT.
The graduate snapped a photo with the fire fighters that took the time to visit her. The group was all smiles, and even offered her a few bits of advice.
“One told me don’t lose my degree, because he actually lost his copy of his degree,” she said through a laugh.
Emily feels like she would have made her father proud.
“I hope that he’s proud of me and that I did it and I know that even though he wasn’t there physically he was there with me and always watching over me,” she said.
Emily graduated with a degree in public relations. After a physically and emotionally demanding year, she plans to take some time for herself this summer.
“You did not have an easy road. But you’ve shown yourself to be capable and strong and I hope this next chapter of life is good to you. We’re proud of you,” Emily’s college professor Scott Cowley commented on her Twitter post.