Hanna Sheppard injured her spine in 2008 when she dived into her pool, hitting the slope that connects the shallow and deep ends.
At the Bellport High School graduation on Thursday, the crowd rose to its feet to cheer her on as she walked across the stage using forehand crutches to receive her diploma.
“Every once in awhile my feet start to hurt, but this is my normal,” said Sheppard, 17, of Brookhaven, who plans to attend Mount Saint Mary College in upstate Newburgh. “When it first happened, I was completely paralyzed. Now, I have a strong passion to become an orthopedic surgeon. Doctors and surgeons helped me, so now I want to help.”
Sheppard was one of 269 students who graduated on the school’s football field Thursday, in between sporadic firework displays by Fireworks by Grucci.
Graduate Christopher Grucci is the son of Felix J. Grucci, the company’s executive vice president and nephew of former U.S. Rep. Felix J. Grucci Jr.
Another graduate, Kevin Wilson, enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program to become a U.S. Marine after his studies at Arizona State University, which he will attend starting in the fall.
“Since I was a kid I wanted to serve my country,” said Wilson, 18, of Bellport. “I’ve always had big dreams to become a politician and help people. My ultimate dream is to run for president.”
Playing football — his team won the Long Island Championship in 2010 — wrestling and maintaining a perfect record of attendance gave him fulfillment, he said, but he looks forward to what lies ahead.
“It all made me tougher,” Wilson said. “High school taught me to respect others and stay optimistic. My advice? Stay focused, have goals to accomplish and a good balance of studying and spending time with friends.”
Although Eddie Gibbons wore a white graduation gown because of his involvement in the National Honor Society, he credits his success to joining the student council and playing soccer and track.
“My advice is to not get senioritis too early on,” said Gibbons, 18, of Bellport, who plans to attend College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., to study education. “I have no regrets. Have fun, because these are supposed to be some of the best years of your life.”