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Sisters surprise Morehouse grad with ceremony, visit from Army dad

Terrell Jones Jr. (center) poses for a picture alongside his sisters, Alexis and Amber, and parents, Terrell Jones Sr. and Frances, after the family surprised him with a commencement ceremony in their backyard to celebrate his graduation from Morehouse College.
Terrell Jones Jr. (center) poses for a picture alongside his sisters, Alexis and Amber, and parents, Terrell Jones Sr. and Frances, after the family surprised him with a commencement ceremony in their backyard to celebrate his graduation from Morehouse College.

Terrell Jones Jr. had one particular wish, he told his sisters, before he graduated from Morehouse College this month.

He wanted his dad, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel stationed in Maryland, with him to celebrate.

On Sunday, Jones’ sisters had him get dressed for some family commencement photos and a Zoom chat with his father. Moments later, his father came downstairs in the family’s Smyrna home.

Morehouse College graduate Terrell Jones Jr., 21, is dressed in his cap and gown after a commencement ceremony organized by his family in their backyard. The celebration included a surprise appearance by his father, a U.S. Army chaplain stationed in Maryland.
Morehouse College graduate Terrell Jones Jr., 21, is dressed in his cap and gown after a commencement ceremony organized by his family in their backyard. The celebration included a surprise appearance by his father, a U.S. Army chaplain stationed in Maryland.

“I was just like ‘Wow!,’ ” Jones Jr., 21, said in a telephone interview Friday. “You’re not in Maryland. That was the biggest surprise I ever had. That was an amazing feeling.”

The sisters, Alexis, 25, and Amber, 23, both Spelman College graduates, began planning the celebration about a month ago. Morehouse delayed its in-person commencement to December after shutting down the campus in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The sisters wanted to have a celebration for their brother, whom the family calls “T.J.” T.J., an easygoing guy, wasn’t making a fuss about commencement.

The sisters had T.J. do a chore at a relative’s home Saturday while their father arrived. The sisters and their mother, Frances, began preparing the backyard for a ceremony.

Family members created cutout photos of Terrell Jones Jr.’s closest friends from Morehouse College, who sat in chairs in the family backyard for a commencement celebration they did for him. The celebration included a surprise visit by his father, a U.S. Army chaplain stationed in Maryland.
Family members created cutout photos of Terrell Jones Jr.’s closest friends from Morehouse College, who sat in chairs in the family backyard for a commencement celebration they did for him. The celebration included a surprise visit by his father, a U.S. Army chaplain stationed in Maryland.

After the surprise, T.J., dressed in cap and gown, walked to the backyard. The family had programs and a stage and created cutout photos of T.J.’s closest friends from Morehouse and had them seated in chairs in the backyard, socially distanced, of course.

His father gave the commencement speech.

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“You kept going to class in your bedroom and at the kitchen table. You kept going on to your computer with Zoom and group chats. … You kept going!”

Amber, a Howard University law school student, read a poem she wrote about the pride she had in her brother's journey to becoming a college graduate as an African American male and the challenges he'll face. Alexis, a doctoral student at Auburn University, created a YouTube video of it all.

T.J., who graduated with a degree in business administration with a concentration in finance, will start work in July as a financial analyst at Kraft Heinz in Chicago. He called the experience “great.”

“To be able to have a commencement that was pretty similar (to Morehouse’s past ceremonies), it was a really big deal,” he said.