Juliet Smith was all set to graduate from Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina this past Saturday — and she was looking forward to it, too. She had completed all of her requirements as an English major and German minor, and had even delivered the welcome remarks at the baccalaureate service a day prior.
So when she didn’t show up to the quad on commencement day, the faculty and students at Guilford knew that whatever business she was attending to must be pretty important.
After Friday’s baccalaureate service, Smith had gone to Lindley Park Filling Station, a local restaurant. She sat across from her mother and next to her fiancé, Isaiah Unger, ordered a salmon salad, and that’s when her water broke.
“The waiter came over with our food, and he asked, ‘Who ordered the salmon salad?’" Smith told TODAY. I said, ‘Wait, no!’ He said, ‘You didn’t order it?’ I said, ‘No! Listen! I think I’m in labor!’”
“He just stood there with his mouth open. And then the entire restaurant started cheering.”
Unlike most new mothers, Smith admitted to having mixed feelings upon realizing she would be giving birth in a few hours. She had been caught off guard and emotions were running high — to put it lightly.
“I was just really upset at first, honestly. I think I even said something to the doctors along the lines of, ‘Can you stop this? Can we push this to after graduation?’” she revealed to TODAY with a laugh. “I was just so excited to walk across the stage the next day and get my diploma.”
Her baby, Milo, was born three weeks before his June 9 due date on Friday, May 15th, at 11:57 pm at the Women’s Hospital. Smith’s mother emailed Erin Dell, the assistant academic dean who would be facilitating the commencement ceremony, to let her know Smith wouldn't be present the next day.
Dell told Smith's mother that she would plan something to make up for it.
“I had absolutely come to terms with not being able to go to commencement, and I had this beautiful baby to stare at, too,” said Smith. “I may have been upset at first, but now, look what I had in my arms. So at that point, I was just expecting someone to come and drop off my diploma.”
The next thing Smith knew, she was being wheeled down the hospital halls to a private room downstairs followed by an entourage of a dozen teachers, deans, and other faculty.
One of Smith’s favorite teachers, Heather Hayton, associate professor of English, pushed her wheelchair. She was followed by dean Erin Dell, along with senior director of alumni relations Karrie Manson, invited speaker Aaron Fetrow, vice president of student affairs Todd Clark and student speakers Julia Draper and David Frazier.
The entire processional was flanked by geology professor Dave Dobson, who played “Pomp and Circumstance” on his tuba.
He later played “Happy Birthday” to the newborn.
“They were still wearing their graduation regalia and went through the whole commencement in 25 minutes, giving abridged versions of their speeches and even talking to me about becoming an alum,” smiled Smith. "How amazing is that?"
And as for those initial mixed feelings?
“I had forgotten completely about any bit of being upset,” she said. “Because as special as it would have been to be able to walk across that stage, what I have now is undoubtedly a much richer memory.
“After all, I got to share it with my son.”