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Graduate Gabrielle Spisak in her graduation gown next to her navy brother Joshua Zepp
MAY 19, 2024 SUNDAY

Brother’s presence is grad’s greatest commencement gift

Celebrating commencement surrounded by family and friends makes for some of life’s best memories. For 2024 graduate Gabrielle Spisak, her brother’s presence was a highlight of the experience.

Joshua Zepp, a senior chief in the U.S. Navy, was able to secure an unexpected three-day leave from his assignment aboard the USS Maine submarine based in Silverdale, Washington and used it to travel home to Harrisburg to attend his only sibling’s law school graduation. They hadn’t seen each other since July 2023.

“I’ve attended multiple military ceremonies and traditions, and none have ever matched seeing my sister walk across that stage today. It was extremely emotional to say the least and I couldn’t be any more proud of her,” Zepp said outside The Forum in the Capitol Complex, after commencement concluded.

Given the brevity of his leave, Zepp did not want to waste time staying under cover for a surprise reveal at commencement. Instead, he showed up at Spisak’s home on Wednesday evening, after arriving from the West Coast.

“I saw someone knocking at my door at 9 o’clock at night and I thought that’s strange. And then I saw him and I just immediately started crying,” Spisak said.

“He works a hard job and to be honest, I don’t always know that he’ll come back,” she continued. “And I don’t know when I’ll see him next, and I know there’s another deployment where he’ll be under the ocean for months at a time before I see him.”

The siblings come from a family of military service. Their parents met while stationed on the same Navy ship. Their grandfathers served in the Navy and Air Force. Zepp joined the Navy after graduating high school in 2013 and quickly accelerated through the ranks.

Spisak is breaking tradition as she prepares to take the Pennsylvania bar exam and takes a position in the law office of Andrew H. Shaw in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

For Spisak, having her brother home on May 16 was doubly sweet. She and her husband welcomed a daughter six days after finals following her second year of law school, and they marked the baby’s first birthday on her commencement day. So Uncle Joshua got to be present for that, too.

“It’s the best,” Spisak said of having her brother in town. “It means the world to me.”

Related Podcast Video

Watch Gabrielle share her experiences becoming a first-time mom while in law school.


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