Todd Graham's family shares a special moment at daughter's graduation

Arizona State coach Todd Graham was the commencement speaker at his alma mater, East Central University, on the day his daughter graduated. Courtesy of Arizona State

It's a spiel that Haylee Graham had heard before.

"Thousands of times," she joked.

God, country, family.

That was the theme last week when Arizona State football coach Todd Graham went to talk at his alma mater, East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma, as the graduation commencement speaker. For starters, Graham called it a great honor to even be asked to speak at graduation. But the fact that his daughter, Haylee, was in the graduating class made it all the more special.

"I was the first person in my family to ever go to college and the first person in the history of my family to graduate from college," Todd Graham said. "I grew up with some challenges like dyslexia, and it was perfect for me to be at a small college to get a degree.

"I can remember sitting there graduating with my mom in the stands and handing her that diploma was one of the most special memories I have in my life. That changed the legacy of my family. And obviously my daughter being there was representation of changing that legacy. Now the minimum standard in our family is graduating from college. Education is what changed my life and it's changing the lives of those in my family."

Haylee Graham, who graduated with a nursing degree, admitted to being mildly cautious about her father being the commencement speaker. But she said it proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience – especially when her dad gave a shout out to the nursing department.

"The college is so small and he was like a celebrity there," said Haylee, one of six Graham children. "I was hoping the graduation would be about me and my friends. I was a little leery of it, but everything was great.

"I'm not real outspoken about who my dad is. I like people to know me for me. Really, none of my friends knew he was my dad until graduation. Obviously my friends at home know. But my college friends didn't really know. But people talk about him a lot during football season."

During his time at East Central as a player and coach, Graham was a two-time NAIA All-American defensive back and later served as defensive coordinator on the on their NAIA National Championship Team.

There were no jokes or embarrassing stories directed at Haylee. The coach understood the magnitude of the moment and did nothing to detract from his daughter's big day.

"It was pretty special," he said. "She kicked her dad's tail as far as grade point average. She's going into a position that's about serving and sacrifice. She's going to help people the rest of her life as a nurse and it was special to be there and see that. That's what you want for your kids. The thing that is most rewarding in life; wealth is not determined about how many trophies you have. Serving and sacrificing for others is the best thing you can do. Her going into nursing is very much like that ... the most successful thing I've ever done in my life is be a father."