Moore milestones: Missing moms make graduation day bittersweet

Southmoore High School's commencement ceremonies bring bright future and bittersweet past together for two daughters, one who lost her mother in the tornado.
by Bryan Painter Published: May 26, 2013

It's tough when your best friend can't attend your graduation.

It's horrible when that best friend was your mother.

During Southmoore High School's commencement ceremonies Saturday, Heather Balliet, 17, and Alyson Costilla, 18, walked across the stage of the Cox Convention Center in a class of 411 seniors.

While they had friends and family in abundance, it was the pain of not having their best friends, their moms, in the red seats of the arena that choked the two graduates' voices and moistened their eyes.

Terri Long, Costilla's mother, sought shelter from Monday's EF5 tornado at a 7-Eleven in Moore after leaving her job at the Federal Aviation Administration. Long died one week before her 50th birthday.

Last June, Mi Suk Balliet went in for surgery for brain aneurysms. She died from complications, her daughter said. Less than a year later and five days from her daughter's graduation, the EF5 destroyed the Balliets' house.

“She called me ‘Baby' all the time,” Heather Balliet said. “This is nothing compared to losing her. I still have the rest of my family with me and everything else is just material.

“The only things I really miss are the photos we had of her and the small pink doll she gave me when I was little. We can't find them.”

Mi Suk and

Heather Balliet

Commencement was held Saturday for all three Moore high schools — Westmoore in the morning, Southmoore in the afternoon and Moore High School in the evening.

Although her mother wasn't there, Balliet said she could hear and see her.

“She'd be so proud of me right now and wouldn't let me forget it,” Balliet said. “She would probably be crying because of how happy she was for me.”

Mother and daughter loved watching television together. And they talked.

Balliet, an honor graduate, said her mother always told her to keep friends and family close “because that's all you really have in life.”

“I will pass this test because of my family and friends,” she said. “When she died, I didn't know what to think at the time. I just thought my world is crashing around me. My family was there and they're with me now.”

Terri Long and

Alyson Costilla

When Costilla received her cap and gown, her mother wanted her to try it on.

“She wanted to see me in it. She was really excited to see me graduate, she couldn't wait.”

They shared many interests, including a passion for shopping and had done just that the day before at Penn Square Mall, searching for a graduation dress.

Best friends also watch out for each other.

Costilla's mother had checked her daughter out of high school early by phone Monday and told her to drive south. Their home was destroyed.

The mother and daughter talked by phone after Long got to the convenience store. And Costilla said she “didn't really sound scared.”

That wasn't surprising. Whenever Costilla would be worried about an upcoming test, Long would say, “Just calm down, don't be so stressed. You'll be fine, I promise.”

She appreciates her mother's advice. But some of it is difficult to follow in these circumstances, even with tremendous support from family.

“Mom would tell me, ‘Be strong in times of tragedy,'” Costilla said. “It's just really hard to do that.”

Their strength

Balliet walked at 3:05 p.m. to cheers of family and friends.

Five minutes later, Costilla's name was called and her friends and family cheered, holding photos of Long over their heads.

About an hour and a half earlier, Julia Black, assistant principal in charge of the senior class, had hugged Balliet and Costilla.

“I know their character, I know their strength,” Black said.

Valedictorian Nhi Nai reminded the entire class, “We are hurt, but we are resilient.”

“We are graduating, but we are not done with our successes,” he said.

Minutes later, Balliet and Costilla, the daughters and best friends of Mi Suk Balliet and Terri Long, accepted their diplomas.


by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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