BP student gets early graduation ceremony so that her Marine father can attend

Published Apr 3, 2013 at 10:32 am (Updated Apr 3, 2013 at 10:32 am)

Melanie Burchfield will graduate twice this spring from Bethel Park High School. The graduation June 16 will be the official ceremony, but the brief gathering of administrators, teachers, a few family members and about 100 students in the high school gymnasium March 27 will be the one she remembers more, because her father, U.S. Marine Major James Burchfield, was there to offer a hug and a kiss.

On April 2, Major Burchfield deployed for a six-month stint in Afghanistan and will be unable to attend the June graduation. While the school district intends on Skyping the ceremony to Burchfield in Afghanistan, the best part of the mock graduation was seeing his only daughter dressed in her white cap and gown, and being handed her diploma, after which he lifted her off the ground and later watched as she threw her cap in the air.

The event elicited a standing ovation from those in attendance, including her stepmother, Patti Burchfield, and her brother U.S. Marine PFC Dan Burchfield, and his girlfriend. Dan Burchfield, a 2009 Bethel Park graduate, will deploy to Afghanistan in September. He returned March 31 to his home base at Twentynine Palms in California.

Another brother, U.S. Marine Sgt. Mike Burchfield, a graduate of McGuffey High School, is serving on a Naval ship in the Western Pacific.

Will Melanie join the Marines? Her father said a resounding, “no.” In the fall, she will begin classes in education at Waynesburg University.

High school Principal Zeb Jasante said while Melanie was handed a diploma in the mock ceremony, she must return the document until June.

As for the reason for the early simulation of graduation, Jasante said, “We wish him well and celebrate the good things that go on.”

The brief, early morning ceremony was followed by a small reception of cake and balloons held for administrators, family and friends.

“This was a very special day,” James Burchfield said during the ceremony. “They are so gracious and I can’t say enough. I didn’t expect all this.”

Helping to arrange the mock graduation, in addition to the administrators, were office secretaries at the high school Donna Murphy and Judy Daley.

Superintendent Nancy Aloi Rose said this was the first simulation of its kind in her memory at Bethel Park. Previously, Rose said, one graduate joined the military and was unable to walk with his fellow students. A private ceremony was held before he left for the Marine Corps.

“There are no words to describe this,” said stepmother Patti Burchfield. Melanie’s father and stepmother live in Washington and she lives with her mother Lori in Bethel Park. “Mel is so very close to her father and this is difficult for her, but she’s a strong girl and we’ll all keep busy and pray a lot.”

Melanie’s close friends attended the mock ceremony and brought lots of tissues.

“It’s a very nice thing they put together as he’s not going to be here for graduation,” Melanie said at the brief reception. She played soccer at Bethel Park for four years and hopes to continue while at Waynesburg University.

The original idea to hold a simulated graduation was James Burchfield’s, his daughter said.

He said in his 18 years in the military, he’s never missed a Christmas or the graduation of his two sons. Now, he’ll be in Afghanistan for his daughter’s graduation. That, he said, is why the simulation was so important.

comments powered by Disqus