Surprise Graduation Story and Video

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cover of 06.07.2019

By Linda Cicoira — As this 20th anniversary edition of the Eastern Shore Post is being uploaded to our website, Austin Studebaker, of Parksley, is getting a surprise.

He’s graduating from Arcadia High School and knows his big sister, Karrie O’Toole, who is serving in the Army in Kuwait, can’t make it home for the milestone. But what he didn’t know was she and her squad members made a video that is going to be played during the graduation. 

They tried to keep the secret from Shelley Studebaker too. She’s Austin and O’Toole’s mother. But, when it seemed like the surprise might not happen, a friend of O’Toole’s called the mother to get help. 

The mother called school activist Connie Burford for assistance. Burford got in touch with Principal Rose Taylor, who was out recovering from surgery. Taylor previewed the video and quickly approved it for the graduation. Taylor knows O’Toole since she graduated from Arcadia in 2012. “Connie Burford got through,” Shelley Studebaker said.

Austin is the youngest of Shelley Studebaker’s biological children. “It’s my baby,” she said. Studebaker is in charge of the foreign exchange program on the Eastern Shore so she’s getting two more students next year from Korea and has had “more than 30 kids over 30 years.” 

Those from the last few years came back, from Spain, Japan, and Germany, to see Austin graduate. Studebaker’s daughter, who lives in Detroit, also traveled to the Shore for the graduation and her own 10-year Arcadia reunion.

“He’s going to be embarrassed and happy all together,” Studebaker said of Austin. “He’s really proud of his sister.” That’s why he is going into the National Guard. Austin got a full scholarship to the community college so he’s going there too. 

Austin was chosen for the Project Horizons program when he was in middle school based on an essay he wrote. The mentoring program is for promising underachievers and provides extra academic, social, and cultural boosts including free tuition. “Support that comes from the community college is amazing,” Studebaker said.