By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2009 - This year, as it's been for the last five, no high school senior graduating from a Department of Defense Education Activity school in Europe will look around wishing a parent could be there as the sound of "Pomp and Circumstance" fills the air.
For the sixth year, DoDEA is providing webcasts of graduation ceremonies from 17 European schools. Two of those ceremonies occurred yesterday, another 12 will take place today, and the remaining three will happen tomorrow, June 7 and June 12.
When the DoDEA graduation season is complete, about 125 parents deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other far-flung locales will have been able to participate in their son's or daughter's high school graduation ceremony.
"We know how important this is to parents, and particularly parents who are deployed," Frank X. O'Gara, DoDEA's educational communications officer, said. "Even if just one student is [graduating], trying to connect that parent with that student for this ceremony is very important.
"Right from the very beginning, when you watch one of them, you can see the power of it," he added.
Letters from deployed parents to their sons or daughters reflect servicemembers' sentiments about the importance of being a part of this once-in-a-lifetime event.
"There was this one soldier who wrote back and said, 'I was in a different war in the Middle East when you started kindergarten, and then I find myself back here in the Middle East on your graduation day,'" O'Gara said. "He talked about all of the times he had to be away during her life, and all the major events that happened.
"He ended by saying, 'Such is the life of a soldier, and such is the life of the family members of a soldier,'" he added. "It was very powerful. It's what it's all about."
The dad who wrote that letter was able to watch his daughter graduate via video teleconference, the way the graduations were broadcast in 2003.
That first year, only two schools' ceremonies -- Vicenza High School in Italy and Wiesbaden High School in Germany -- were broadcast by video teleconference. Immediately, however, other schools with units that would be deployed during the next graduation season wanted to participate. Because video teleconferencing required too much equipment downrange, webcasting was chosen as the new mode.
Making the webcasts possible takes a lot of cooperation from the commands, both at home and downrange. The deployed servicemembers must be located, and then arrangements must be made for them to be at the viewing location at the right time.
Sometimes they're brought together to celebrate their children's graduations as a group. Other times, it's a solitary event. Either way, it's a sweet celebration, O'Gara said.
While not as cumbersome as video teleconferencing, webcasting still takes a good deal of effort. U.S. Army Europe and 5th Signal Command deserve a lion's share of the credit for making it happen, he said.
"The Army is really the major player ... and have really made it happen," O'Gara said. "The 5th Signal Command has been very instrumental in spearheading this effort and then working all the technical issues to make it happen."
The remaining graduation ceremonies to be webcast, and the air times, can be accessed at http://www.doddsegrads.net/Default.aspx. Enter the username "2009grads" and the password "lucky2009."
The site also features graduation programs for and links to each webcast, information on those who made it possible, and graduation messages from commanders.