Moving America Forward

A University Community Bands Together to Help One of Their Own Walk Across the Graduation Stage

May 21, 2014
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A University Community Bands Together to Help One of Their Own Walk Across the Graduation Stage
Emily Rose Hernandez walked across the stage when she graduated from UNT, despite being paralyzed from the waist down. Ahna Hubnik/URCM
Emily Hernandez stood on her own two feet to receive her dual degrees.

We’ve seen individuals achieve great things despite incredible odds, but Emily Hernandez’s story is proof of what a difference a community can make.

In August 2009, a horrific car accident left the 18-year-old University of Northern Texas (UNT) student severely injured. As the North Texan describes, during Emily’s commute to school with a friend, one of the wheels of her truck came off. In a scene straight out of an action movie, the car drove off an overpass.

“I broke my neck and my back, my shoulder and my wrist, my ribs, my lungs collapsed twice and my brain hemorrhaged,” she told Fox 4 News. The accident left Emily paralyzed from the waist down and killed her friend. Doctors said that Emily would never walk again.

MORE: The Nation’s Pastime Motivated This Disabled Teenager to Walk Again

But the determined student, who was bound to a wheelchair, set out to put her life back on track. She had a goal of not just graduating in four years but actually walking once again.

Her motivation also inspired other students to help her in her journey. One of the university’s fraternities, Pi Kappa Phi, held several fundraisers across campus, including a 72-hour bike-a-thon — raising more than $3,000 to support Emily. Unbeknownst to Emily, her friend and former residence advisor, Leidy Guarin, also set up a fitting with Hanger Clinic, a company that specializes in prosthetics and orthotics.

Remarkably, the Huffington Post reports that Emily was able to achieve her goals — receiving dual degrees in visual arts studies and studio arts and walking across the stage during commencement wearing, thanks to the help of her fellow UNT Eagles who raised $10,000 for a reciprocating gait orthosis brace that enabled her to be on her feet.

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“Now, I’m standing. Now, I’m strong,” the college grad, who’s next goal is to become an art teacher, told Fox 4 News. “Now, I am a force to be reckoned with.”

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