Tondaleya Robinson delayed going to college for two decades in order to raise her three children so when it came time to finally receive her degree on Monday night, her youngest son, a U.S. Marine, made sure he was there.
The only catch was that Robinson herself had no idea until her son, Cpl. Paul Robinson, walked across the stage to hand his mom her diploma.
"I was crying. I was jumping. I was shaking. I could not believe it," Robinson, of West Philadelphia, told ABC News. "I said, 'Oh you got me on that one.'"
Robinson, 45, graduated from Peirce College with a degree in Human Resources Management. Her son, 23-year-old Cpl. Robinson, called her just hours before graduation to let her know he had not been approved to take leave to travel from his Marine Corp base in Virginia to Philadelphia.
"He called again and said, 'I talked to the last person I thought could help and they said no,'" Robinson recalled.
In reality, Cpl. Robinson was already en route to Philadelphia after his commander all but told him to go when he showed up for work Monday morning.
"His commander said something like, 'Robinson what are you doing here? You’re supposed to be with your mom,'" Robinson recalled her son saying. "And he said, ‘Roger that sir,' and left."
Cpl. Robinson, who could not be reached today by ABC News, made it to Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center just in time to hide in the back so that his mom would not see him. Even his other family members in attendance – including his brother, sister and grandparents – had no idea he would be there.
"Everybody was surprised," Robinson said. "When they saw him come through they said, 'There’s Paul!'"
The surprise from her son was a sweet ending for Robinson, who stayed at home while her children were young in order to raise them. She started back into the workforce by volunteering at her kids’ school and then started working for the city of Philadelphia, ultimately landing at her current place of employment, the Department of Revenue.
Robinson began college in 2009, once her kids were in high school, and stuck with it even after her husband, and Cpl. Robinson's father, Charles Robinson, Jr., died in 2011 after suffering from heart and diabetes complications.
"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 said. "My church is a great support and my family."
"I just said, 'I've got to do this,'" said Robinson, whose next goal is to open her own business. "I'm a go-getter."