FORT DEFIANCE — Savannah Smith-Kilty had plans since the end of last year to enlist in the U.S. Army after graduating from high school.
The Fort Defiance senior anticipated walking across the stage for graduation on May 18 — one week before leaving for basic training on Memorial Day. But when the COVID-19 pandemic closed Virginia’s public and private schools in March, a question mark loomed over graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020.
Fort Defiance announced alternate graduation plans for its seniors that adhere to social distancing and the no more than 10 person gathering limit. Each graduate will receive their diplomas at a scheduled time between Wednesday and Thursday.
That change of graduation plans meant Savannah would miss her high school graduation for basic training, along with missing the opportunity to walk across the stage with her twin brother Patrick Smith-Kilty.
However, the Fort Defiance community banded together on Wednesday to hold a graduation ceremony of one — allowing Savannah to receive her high school diploma before heading off for the Army. The ceremony also made the 18-year-old graduate the first person from Augusta County’s class of 2020 to officially graduate.
“It’s pretty special,” Savannah said of the ceremony. “Both my parents were in the Army, and I just always wanted to do it. It’s been a goal of mine.”
Savannah’s mother, Carla Smith-Kilty, served in the Army from 1986 to 1994 while her father, Michael Kilty, served from 1983 to 1992. They said they anticipated Savannah’s decision to join the Army herself.
“I think we kind of knew it was coming. She’s a tough girl,” Carla Smith-Kilty said. “I’m just glad that the school made arrangements for this to happen for her. It was special to have her be acknowledged for her hard work.”
It was actually Savannah’s twin brother, Patrick, who mentioned enlisting in the Army first though, Michael Kilty said. Patrick, however, has plans to enlist in the Air Force and is working with a recruiter to leave in the late fall or winter. Although Patrick attended Wednesday’s ceremony with his sister, he is waiting to receive his diploma at Fort Defiance’s scheduled graduation ceremony Wednesday.
“Nobody else in my family has (chosen the Air Force),” Patrick said of picking the Air Force over the Army. “My granddad was in the Navy, and I have godparents in the Marines, but no one in the Air Force.”
While Patrick is still unsure of a specific job he’d like to pursue while in the Air Force, Savannah has chosen joint fire support specialist for her advanced individual training (AIT) with the Army.
Savannah leaves Monday, the Memorial Day holiday, for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. After a little more than 9 weeks, she’ll head to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for AIT.
“I’m hoping (the Army) will make me better and make me tougher. After the Army, I want to be a police officer, so I’m hoping it will help me get ready for that,” Savannah said.
“I hope I see her out there,” Patrick added. “It makes me want to get ready and not fall behind from Savannah. I’ve got to keep up with her and be a little competitive with her. Good luck to both of us.”