What better way to celebrate an academic milestone than with a dance?
Candace Hall’s three kids wanted to do something extra special for their mother after she successfully defended her dissertation at Maryville University in Missouri on Sept. 17. So, they choreographed a group dance and performed right in the hallway outside a conference room just moments after Hall got the good news.
“After I came out of the room … when I turned the corner, the kids were lined up and they started dancing. I was so caught off guard,” Hall, 31, tells PEOPLE. “The dance with the posters and the balloons, it was like, ‘Wow!’ There were cupcakes! I was speechless. It was incredible.”
In a viral video of the performance, Hall’s children — Edwyn, 7, Bailey, 6, and Avery, 4 — are shown sporting wide smiles as they show off their dance moves. Then the kids each hold up signs for Hall before running to give her a hug.
“I was surprised and so happy. I was shocked they were actually able to keep this all a secret because my kids talk a lot!” Hall tells PEOPLE. “I was so proud.”
She later shared a family photo with her children and husband, 32-year-old Dorian Hall. She says she had no clue what the kids were up to, especially after they sat silently for half-an-hour as she defended her research.
“They sat still and completely quiet for 30 minutes!” Hall says. “Afterward, my [advisor] said, ‘I don’t know what you did. I don’t know if you bribed them! They did so well!’ ”
Y’all my kids sat quietly + listened intently during my dissertation defense...AND surprised me with a performance to congratulate me after I learned I passed. I’m so grateful ❤️— Candace N Hall (@hallofacademia) September 19, 2019
Music by @1kphew pic.twitter.com/hhDed9A926
Hall began working on her dissertation in May 2017, studying higher education leadership and exploring the job satisfaction of minoritized faculty members at the country’s predominantly white research institutions. She says it has been a long road, and her mother-in-law Edna Aldridge has always stepped up to help out the family as Hall pursued her Doctorate in Education.
With that, her children wanted to come up with a unique way to celebrate their mother’s success — especially after cheering for Hall throughout her academic journey.
“For them to be able to witness this whole process is so incredible,” she says. “When I talked to my oldest son about it, he said, ‘I’m so proud of you!’ He said, ‘You did it! Mom, I’m so proud. You’re the best.’ ”
My motivation + my heart in one picture. WE DID IT! pic.twitter.com/vKam2rBHBI— Candace N Hall (@hallofacademia) September 19, 2019
She says it took the kids about a day to plan the surprise, with the help of Hall’s best friend, Brittany Starks, 32. They danced to “We Did It” by rapper 1k Phew, who retweeted the clip. The video has since been retweeted more than 1,000 times. But Hall says she never expected the footage to go viral.
“It’s been overwhelming. I told my oldest son, ‘Edwyn! The tweet went viral,’ ” Hall recalls. “They were all like, ‘Whoa! This is so cool! People know who we are!’ It’s been exciting for the kids.”