Special Guest Surprises Graduate with Marriage Proposal

May 25, 2011

Like many graduating seniors, Tamiko Crawford was a little nervous May 21 about walking across the wide stage at Virginia’s Hampton Convocation Center to accept her college diploma. Little did she know that another big moment in her life was about to occur on the same stage, moments later.

Special Guest Surprises Graduate with Marriage Proposal After receiving her congratulations from University President Arthur F. Kirk, Jr. and taking a few steps, the sociology major glimpsed a man in a suit at the other end of the stage, waiting for her. With a few more steps, Crawford saw that the man was her longtime beau, Donald Pongnon, and realized that he had gotten a leave from military duty in Afghanistan to surprise her. She rushed toward him––in spite of her high heels. Then he surprised her again, insisting that they stay on stage while he got down on one knee and presented her with an engagement ring.

“Yes, yes,” Crawford said, hugging him. The crowd, which had assembled that morning to cheer on nearly 700 new Saint Leo University graduates, roared in approval. The event was visible on two big-screen displays, as well as on the stage, and so caught nearly everyone’s attention.

The couple had discussed marriage before, Crawford said, but they hadn’t established a timetable because of his continuing service abroad with the U.S. Navy. She had no clue that her commencement ceremony would provide the backdrop for a formal engagement.

Pongnon had made arrangements online to get a ring, and managed to get a three-week leave from Afghanistan. He also contacted Saint Leo University administrators to ask if he could attend the commencement and be in a position to greet Crawford after she received her diploma.  He didn’t let on that he was planning a public proposal, but had that in mind all along. “If I am going to get a ‘yes,’ I am going to get a big yes,” he had decided.

Saint Leo staffer Gwen Mikeals, who has long coordinated the graduation ceremonies in Virginia, says the commencement proposal is the first one of its kind, at least to her knowledge.

Pongnon has to return to his intelligence assignment in early June, but the happy couple is looking at dates in the spring for a ceremony.