It may have been just another day for the students of Spring Valley High School in South Carolina. But things were about to change dramatically for one senior. That’s because, after being sent out of the room on an errand by her teacher, Solymar Solis returned to find something very unexpected waiting for her.
On that day in September 2016 – and not long before the student returned to her classroom – an unusual visitor took a seat among Solis’ friends. Army Sergeant Carlos Solis Melendez had walked into the room holding flowers and a large balloon before settling down at a desk in the middle of the group of learners.
At that time, Sergeant Melendez’s main objective was to blend into the crowd and wait to be spotted. With the help of family and staff at the high school, he had organized a very special surprise – but only time would tell whether all would go exactly to plan.
And as Melendez sat patiently at the desk, the other students may have waited eagerly to find out what was happening. A soldier had seemingly randomly joined their economics lesson, after all – and that wouldn’t have been an everyday occurrence. The group wouldn’t have to wait long to find out what would happen next, however.
As Solis returned to class, she walked in the direction of her allotted desk. At first, though, she was totally oblivious to the man sitting in the combat uniform holding a big pink balloon and pretty bouquet. In fact, it took her a moment to catch sight of the soldier – but when she did, she was seemingly overcome with emotion.
After all, the visitor was there for Solis: he was her beloved dad, back a week early from his deployment in Kuwait. And in footage of the reunion uploaded to YouTube, the student can be clearly heard saying “Oh my God” as she spots her parent in the front row. Solis then turns her back on the room – perhaps in an attempt to compose herself.
Melendez remains seated, however, as he watches his 17-year-old daughter’s reaction to his surprise return. In a 2016 interview with ABC News, the sergeant said of that moment, “She didn’t talk. She was just crying. She was overwhelmed with everything. She thought it was a dream.”
The video then shows Melendez finally approaching his girl and holding her in a warm embrace. Her classmates also applaud the happy moment as father and daughter are reunited. And all the while, Solis continues to cry – perhaps still in shock at the unexpected arrival.
At the very least, it was one school day that Solis would surely not forget. That was all down to Melendez, too, as after being away for his daughter’s birthday, among other things, he had wanted to do something memorable in order to help make up for lost time.
Melendez had left Solis in his sister’s care while he had been away, and it was his sibling he had asked for help with organizing the surprise. Staff at Spring Valley High had also played their part, though; in fact, it had been the school’s idea to sit Melendez among the students in the room.
Melendez later explained to ABC News, “I’m a single parent, so while I was deployed, I got my sister to live with my daughter.” He added, “When I was coming back and talking to my sister, we came to the conclusion that we should do something special for my daughter. We got in touch with the school, and they planned this whole being-in-the-classroom thing, and it turned out perfect.”
However, the military father was worried about how his child would react to seeing him. “It came across my mind like, ‘How is she going to react?’” he said of the day. “‘Is she going to be happy and run to me and hug me, or cry?’ That was all going on through my mind.”
What’s more, Melendez was not expecting to receive such a dramatic display of emotion from his daughter. Solis recalled in a 2016 interview with KTVU, “I saw my dad. I freaked out, I panicked and started crying.” That tearful meeting showed just how much Melendez’s return meant to Solis, though.
And, all in all, Melendez was apparently delighted with how the event unfolded. “I feel good,” he told ABC News. “I feel, like, mission accomplished.” Understandably, Solis was thrilled with the turn of events, too, as she would reveal to the media.
Indeed, Solis would say to ABC News, “[I’m] just really happy, because I get to be with him from now on. And I don’t have to worry about going home and talking to him on the phone – and having [to do] long-distance stuff.”
But, of course, the pair had a lot of time to make up together. There was an important event that Melendez was glad to be back for, too. Solis was scheduled to graduate from high school the following June, and the sergeant wanted to be there in person to see his daughter pick up her diploma.
Perhaps, though, some of Solis’ classmates could understand just how it felt to have loved ones come home from service. After all, Spring Valley High is fewer than ten miles from Fort Jackson, which is a major U.S. Army training center. This means that a high number of families in the area have relatives serving in the military.
Therefore, the classroom scene of a family member being reunited with a serving parent may have been familiar to students and teachers alike. Indeed, Melendez’s very noticeable homecoming could very well have tugged at many more heartstrings than just his daughter’s.
And after ABC News uploaded footage of the reunion to YouTube, one user of the video-sharing site was moved by the reunion enough to comment, “A true hero!” Another viewer was more sympathetic towards Solis, however, as they claimed, “If this happened to me, I’d be embarrassed.”
Even if Solis had been left a little red-faced, however, she apparently warranted the special treatment – at least, according to her father. “It means everything,” Melendez said of the occasion to ABC News. “After all the sacrifices she’s made, she deserves all the special arrangements and special occasions and celebrations. I’ll do anything for my daughter. The moments that she’s going to accumulate through her life, if I can make them special, then I believe I’m doing good parenting.”