PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) — For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island held its first public graduation ceremony Friday after one year and 41 ceremonies without attendees.
In total, 383 Marines graduated, and each was allowed to invite two loved ones to help them celebrate their accomplishment.
Pfc. Cody Purcell, 19, from Richmond Hill, invited his mother and father to attend his graduation. He told WSAV NOW seeing his family again was the best graduation gift he could have asked for.
“When they first told us, I was like, ‘they’re playing mind games with us.’ And then we started writing down names, and I thought, ‘this must be real.’ It sucks I can’t have my whole family here, but at least it’s two, and that’s great,” Purcell said. “I missed my family a lot. It’s great having them here.”
Pvt. Edwin Villedaperez from Hilton Head Island asked his cousin and mother to join him during the ceremony. He says after three months of rigorous training, he’s proud to have earned the title of United States Marine.
“I finally accomplished my goal I’ve wanted since I was in high school,” Villedaperez said. “I learned a lot and got a lot of motivation from my family from the letters they wrote me.”
Pvt. Jacob Williams, of Pembroke, also had his mom and dad attend Friday’s celebration. He says he’s grateful to be among this graduating class so his loved ones could be with him for the special moment.
“It’s been intense. A lot of mind games, a lot of tricks, a lot of challenges,” Williams said. “I feel so lucky. It’s great to celebrate all the progress I’ve made and for them to see how much I’ve changed and to be able to have that morale booster for the rest of the training I have ahead of me.”
They say the most challenging part of their training was adapting to the lifestyle.
“You’re waking up at three in the morning, getting yelled at every day, having to go to bed by eight, and having all your meals at the same time,” Purcell said. “It was mentally tough, especially being so close to home.”
Williams says the hard work was worth it to achieve his goal of becoming a Marine.
“It’s a great reward,” he said. “I feel like the greatest man on earth right now. I couldn’t do anything better in my life.”
Friday’s ceremony was a part of the gradual approach to reopen the depot completely to visitors.