(NBC) – As she looked around the room during her graduation ceremony last Friday, a Texas high school graduate knew one person was missing from the room: her father.
Sarai Ruiz, 18, watched as families, including her own mother, proudly stood before her graduating class at Hector J. Garcia Early College High School in Laredo.
Ruiz’s father, Esteban Ruiz, had been deported from the United States when she was just four years old. Though she now lives with both of her parents in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Ruiz continued to attend school in the United States, which meant crossing the border bridge every day to get her education.
On her graduation day, her father wasn’t able to attend since he cannot re-enter the U.S.
“As I looked over at my mom that day as my principal was speaking, I couldn’t help but to see other parents there for their kids, and it wasn’t just a mom,” Ruiz told NBC News. “It was mom and dad, or mom and dad and grandma and grandpa. And it really did hit home for me. I knew that my dad couldn’t be there.”
Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the father and daughter from celebrating her accomplishment.
In a now viral moment, Ruiz met up with her father on the Puente de Las Americas (Gateway to the Americas Bridge), a border bridge between the United States and Mexico. The two tearfully embraced after Ruiz crossed the bridge fully decked out in her graduation attire.
“I gave him a hug and I just started to cry a lot,” she said. “It’s like I fulfilled the dreams of both my mom and dad to find better opportunities that they didn’t have.”
Ruiz shared a video of the moment on Facebook, which has been viewed more than 2.8 million times since May 25, writing, “I knew my father would never see me walk to get my diploma but today I’d thought I’d surprise him by crossing the bridge so he could see me with my cap and gown.”
I graduated today..I tried so hard not to cry when we saluted our parents knowing that only my mom was there..I knew my…
Ruiz, who moved around when she was younger to be closer to her dad, said her father once told her, “Nobody will ever separate us. Only God will.”