‘Celebrating Nurses’ winner gets a surprise during ceremony

Cheryl Wagnon knew that something good would be happening on Tuesday.

The Cobb County Schools employee planned to attend a luncheon in her honor at the Cobb Galleria, where she would be acknowledged for her work as a special education nurse.

But there was one part of the ceremony that came as a surprise: Who was that young person bringing her the trophy?

In the halo of the bright lights shining on the stage, and in her eyes, Wagnon could only tell for sure that a woman in high heels was approaching the stage.

Then that person turned out to be her daughter, Katie Wagnon, who had secretly flown to Atlanta from Shanghai, China, where she has lived for the past 15 years.

Katie simply wanted to be on hand when her mother was honored. And she’s good at keeping a secret. The surprise was worth the effort.

“She was flummoxed,” said Katie, of her mother’s reaction. “Then, when she figured out it was me, she was real excited. There were happy tears.”

In fact, both mother and daughter were crying and hugging as the hundreds in attendance erupted in applause.

“I ran to her like a mama to a baby,” said Cheryl, 63. “It was incredible. I can’t believe someone would sit on an airplane for 18 hours, just to have some lunch with her mama.”

ExploreHere are scenes from previous awards ceremonies.

Katie Wagnon, 37, a graduate of Georgia Tech, works for a Swedish company, recruiting teachers to come to China to tutor students in English. She usually gets a chance to return to Marietta only about twice a year. When she heard about her mother’s award, she began contemplating a quick trip to Georgia for the occasion, but she kept it quiet.

“I started thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if I could make this work?’” she said, after the ceremony. “But I had to do a little bit of sleuthing to find out who was organizing the event.”

(That would be us, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which produced the event.)

Even after she had purchased airline tickets she kept up the charade, sending a big bouquet to her mother with a note that said she wished she could be there. They had their regular video chat the previous Sunday, and Cheryl was none the wiser.

Katie drafted her mother’s best friend, Jill Turner, to help coordinate the trip. “My bestie got her at the airport, which I knew nothing about,” said Cheryl. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more surprised in my life. I told my friend, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to trust you again.’”

Turner then stashed Katie at a hotel near the Galleria, where she could walk across the street for the luncheon. Katie was scheduled to return to China Wednesday morning.

At the AJCjobs Celebrating Nurses Excellence Awards, Cheryl Wagnon was among 10 individuals recognized for their critical work. The awards tradition is in its 12th year. Tuesday's lunch was was co-emceed by Jovita Moore, news anchor at WSB television, Channel 2, and by Kevin Riley, editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In her nomination of Wagnon, Patricia Rolleston wrote, in part, “Ms. Wagnon is the itinerant nurse for this school who makes assessment visits and recognized the possible need for a special needs student to be considered for a surgical procedure on the stomach. She has served the Cobb County School District’s Nursing department for 24 years and this example is just one of many similar cases where I have known her to persist as an advocate with similar outcomes.”

“Celebrating Nurses” is a yearly event, timed to coincide with National Nurses Week. It also happens to fall very near Mother’s Day, and Cheryl Wagnon said her daughter’s surprise visit was quite a Mother’s Day gift.

She and her husband have three children, two sons and a daughter, and she loves them all. But, she added, “This mother-daughter bond is pretty tight.”