Innovative schools around the United States are using technology to enable distant parents–including troops in Iraq and other remote locations–to feel a little more togetherness, even if the get-togethers are only virtual.

Victor Rogers’ father was thousands of miles away in Iraq, but he was still able to see the 18-year-old graduate from high school May 29. Several schools near Fort Hood in central Texas worked with the Army post to broadcast their graduation ceremonies to soldiers in Iraq through the internet and a live satellite hookup. Deployed parents also spoke with graduates in private video conferences.

“I’m just happy to see my dad in one piece and that he can see me walk” across the graduation stage, Rogers said before the ceremony. “Just to see him happy for at least this day makes me happy.”

More than 250 students from area schools signed up to participate in the video conferences.

“You can’t say enough about the morale boost that the soldiers in theater are getting from this,” said Col. Robert Forrester, the 1st Cavalry Division’s rear detachment commander. “High school graduation is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You want to make parents a part of it even if they are deployed.”

Two large screens were on each side of the stage at Killeen High School’s May 29 graduation ceremony, so students could see their soldier parents standing and clapping as they received their diplomas.

In Iraq, soldiers stayed up until midnight to watch the ceremonies from the Baghdad headquarters of the 1st Cavalry Division.

Division commander Maj. Gen. Pete Chiarelli, whose son was among the Killeen graduates, came up with the idea for the video conferences.

“If we could send every deployed parent home to be with [his or her] graduate, we would,” Chiarelli said from Iraq. “It is our hope that this video link helps close the gap, if only slightly, for students and parents alike.”

A webcast of the Sherman High School graduation ceremony in Seth, W.Va., to an Army parent in Iraq led the school to use its internet and video facilities to reunite a school employee with her son, who has been stationed overseas for more than a year.

Donna Massey hadn’t seen her son, Army Sgt. Robert Massey Jr., who is stationed in Germany, for 14 months. But mother and son got the chance to see one another on May 20 via the internet, through a one-way, video-only connection.

Sherman High School, where Donna Massey has worked as a cook for 23 years, broadcast its evening graduation ceremony live over the web so another soldier, who is stationed in Iraq, could see his daughter get her diploma.

When Massey found out about the 6 p.m. webcast, she mentioned to school officials that it would be nice if she could get on camera to get a message to her son in Germany.

“They announced it here at school, and I said, ‘If I could be here early, then maybe I could say something to my son,'” she told the Associated Press. “They came back and said ‘Most definitely.'”

The webcast did not include audio, so Massey and other family members made signs out of white poster board.

One sign was decorated with two American flags, another was adorned with yellow ribbons, and all had messages such as “We miss you” and “We’re so proud of you.”

The webcast project started with Sherry Flynn, who was determined that her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Flynn, get to see their middle daughter, Meagan, graduate with about 80 other seniors.

“It was absolutely wonderful,” Sherry Flynn said the evening of the graduation ceremony. “Meagan had a sign that said ‘I made it, Dad.’ She has a lot of friends in the school, and they were happy her daddy got to watch her graduate.”

Sherry Flynn set the project in motion when she came to the school May 19 to see what could be done so that her husband could see the ceremony. That’s when computer science teacher Randy Herron and his students set to work.

With the help of Sherman alumnus Brad Barker, who is now a student at West Virginia University Tech, a web cam was set up and linked to the school’s web site.

“I’m just glad that we have the technology at Sherman to be able to do that,” Principal Theresa Lonker said. “We have a lot of students and a lot of school personnel that have just stepped up to the plate.”

Herron and his students have undertaken similar projects in the past. The school was the first in the state to broadcast a football game over the internet a few years ago, Herron said.

“We could make it an annual event,” he said of the graduation webcast.

See these related links:

Killeen Independent School District

Sherman High School