PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Paralyzed former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand implored his fellow graduates to remember that anything is possible in an emotional speech Sunday during the university’s commencement ceremony.
LeGrand, who suffered a paralyzing injury during a 2010 game, was dressed in a cap and gown and drew long and loud cheers during his speech to the Class of 2014.
”I’m moving my shoulders here. I’m moving myself forward,” the 23-year-old told the cheering crowd. ”Don’t ever let someone tell you you can’t do something!”
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The former defensive tackle recalled being paralyzed from the neck down while making a tackle on a kickoff in a game against Army. He is now able to breathe on his own and stand upright with the help of a metal frame.
He told the crowd to remember that ”anything is truly possible in this world.”
After LeGrand spoke, Rutgers President Robert Barchi announced that former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, the event’s keynote speaker, had asked that his $35,000 speaking fee be used to establish a scholarship fund in honor of LeGrand and the entire graduating class.
In his speech, Kean called for a return to civility in politics and civic life. He urged graduated to ”help us in this country break this terrible gridlock. Help us hold this society together.”
Kean and LeGrand had been part of a strange saga in the days leading up to the ceremony.
School officials initially announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would give the keynote address. But, she later withdrew after some students and faculty members protested her selection, citing her role in deciding that the U.S. would go to war in Iraq.
Kean, who was one of the chairmen of the national Sept. 11 Commission, was soon named as the new keynote speaker. But hours after that announcement, LeGrand tweeted that he had been offered the chance to give the speech, but that the university rescinded the offer ”for political reasons.”
School officials blamed the confusion on a ”miscommunication” and said LeGrand would serve as the ceremony’s student speaker and receive his labor relations degree on stage.
School officials said the this class had an estimated 16,431 graduates, including students from the New Brunswick-Piscataway, Newark and Camden campuses and the former University of Medicine and Dentistry. But only a few thousand attended the ceremony at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway. Most Rutgers students attend smaller graduation ceremonies within their schools and colleges, where they pick up their degrees.