For two decades Tondaleya Robinson, 45, devoted much of her time to raising her three children.
She gradually eased her way back into work outside the home by volunteering at her kids’ school, Good Morning America noted. Then came her job with the city of Philadelphia and its Department of Revenue.
In 2009, her children in high school, Robinson decided it was time to go to college — and she plowed ahead, despite keeping her city job and even after the death of her husband Charles Robinson, Jr., in 2011.
Finally graduation day arrived — and of course Robinson's children would watch proudly from the audience to witness her mom join the inaugural class of Human Resource Management from Peirce College and receive their diplomas.
All but one.
Her youngest son, Marine Lance Corporal Paul Robinson, is stationed in Quantico, Virginia, and the 23-year-old hasn't been back home in five months. Try as he may, the corporal said, he wouldn't be able to make it north — and called his mom hours before the ceremony to give her the bad news.
"He called again and said, 'I talked to the last person I thought could help and they said no,'" Robinson told GMA.
"He was like I''m really sorry, I couldn't make it,'" Robinson added to WTXF-TV in Philadelphia. "I was like ‘It's OK Paul, I know if you could be here you would.'"
Little did she know her son was already on his way to Philadelphia after his commander more or less ordered him to take off the morning of Monday's ceremony.
"His commander said something like, 'Robinson what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be with your mom,'" she noted to WTXF, recalling what her son told her later. "And he said, ‘Roger that sir,' and left."
So as Robinson walked on stage and was about to receive her diploma, her son appeared behind her, moved to her side, and brought the house down.
"I was crying. I was jumping. I was shaking. I could not believe it," Robinson told GMA. "I said, 'Oh you got me on that one.'"
Not even his brother and sister and grandparents in attendance knew he was planning on being there.
Then, fittingly, Lcpl. Robinson handed his mother her bachelor's degree diploma.
"It's kind of indescribable right now because she's watched me grow up," Lcpl. Robinson told WTXF. “My mom is one of my biggest inspirations throughout the passing of my father. I never seen my mom be so strong."
Lcpl. Robinson told Good Morning America that he joined the Marines to honor his father, who had dreamed of serving in the military, and noted that he's "proud of everything my mom accomplishes."
His mother isn't done with school just yet — the self-described "go-getter" told GMA she wants to open her own business, adding to WXTF that she'll go for her master’s degree next.
"I just put my best foot forward and I tell everybody that they can do it because somebody always pushed me and said, 'You can do it,'" Robinson added to GMA. "My church is a great support and my family."
This story has been updated.