Emotional reunion between military mom and ballet-dancing son at Virtual School's graduation

She works in Afghanistan, son is ballet prodigy

Life is far from normal for Neal Burks and his mom Makeda Oates.

He is a ballet prodigy and took online classes at Hillsborough Virtual School while dancing at the Houston Ballet Academy.

Oates works for a military contractor in Afghanistan. She normally uses FaceTime from halfway around the world to see her son.

This week mother and son made an emotional reunion at Tampa’s historic D.W. Waters Career Center. 

That is the location where Hillsborough Virtual School held its 2018 graduation for around 40 students whose lives are decidedly nontraditional compared to most high school seniors.

“As time goes on, you start to adjust,” says Burks, who at a young age has to balance school with a budding career. “You just get things done. I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Oates spent 24 hours on planes to make it home in time to see her son graduate, earning his degree online.

“He’s done so much, just putting one foot in front of the other," said Oates. "And he’s never stopped!”

Mom will be home for a little more than a week. Neal will be home for a little bit more than that. They plan to spend a lot of time together celebrating Neal’s graduation and taking their unique lives one day at a time.

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