A year ago, Victoria Bittleston was working as a Subway sandwich artist.
On Friday, Bittleston, clad in dress blues, marched off of the Air Force Academy's Stillman Parade Field as one of the school's newest lieutenants in the making, and into the arms of her waiting mother.
"Hey, don't cry," Bittleston, a freshman cadet, urged as her mom, Caroline Lay, clung to her.
Mother and daughter reunited Friday morning after the Cadet Wing Parade, one of many activities academy officials had planned for Parents' Weekend.
The weekend gives family members and friends a chance to see their cadets in formation, attend classes with them, meet members of their squadron and attend the season's first football game.
More than 10,000 visitors were expected for the event, which kicked off Wednesday evening with a Parents' Club Presidents' Reception and runs through Monday.
Friday was the first time Lay had seen her daughter since June, which she'd bid adieu before cadet basic training.
"Vicki is the fourth of five kids, and I'm proud of all of them. But Vicki has worked very, very hard," Lay said while dissolving into tears.
"You've done very well, sweetie," Lay said. "Look at me. I'm crying on your uniform."
For two years, Bittleston wondered if becoming an Air Force officer was in the cards. She applied to the academy during her junior year of high school, but didn't make the cut. Bittleston retook the SAT, improved her score and applied again.
After graduating high school in Statesville, N.C., in 2012, Bittleston took a job at Subway and waited to hear back from the academy.
In case she received another rejection letter, she devised a backup plan: Bittleston met with an Air Force recruiter about becoming an enlisted medical laboratory assistant.
She would have started enlisted basic training on July 5 had she not received a letter from the academy in May informing her of her acceptance.
"It's definitely been hard work to get here," said Bittleston, who lost nearly 100 pounds to meet the Air Force's weight standards.
Bittleston plans to study biology. She hopes the Air Force will eventually give her a chance to work on a medical research project she dreamed up years ago: using genetics to boost the amount of therapeutic chemicals contained in certain plants.
Her plans for this weekend: Enjoy her parent's hotel room.
"I'm looking forward to sleeping under blankets and sleeping in," said Bittleston, who hasn't slept tucked into a bed, under blankets, since her last night at home
Seung "John" Song and family members also spent Friday celebrating his status as a freshman cadet.
Song spent nearly four years in the Air Force as an enlisted C-17 crew chief before the academy accepted him earlier this year.
Surgery prevented him from attending last year, and for awhile, it looked like he'd need to attend the academy's preparatory school, the former senior airman said.
But in June, Song reported to the academy - not to the prep school - for his second round of basic training in his short military career.
When Song graduated enlisted basic training, "I said, 'My son is truly an American,' " said his mother, Kyong Song, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with her son and other family members two decades ago.
Seeing her future officer march in uniform at one of the nation's most prestigious schools on Friday took her breath away.
"My pride is more, more, more," she said in broken English before pausing to collect herself.
"Words cannot explain."