PISCATAWAY, NJ—Yesterday, Rutgers University hosted its largest commencement ceremony in the school's 248-year history, graduating over 16,000 students in total at the school's football stadium.
Local hero Eric LeGrand, a Rutgers football player whose career-ending spinal cord injury left him paralyzed, was among the graduating class, and given the floor to address his classmates.
Before inviting LeGrand on to the stage, University President Robert Barchi said, "His name has become synonymous with the word 'believe.'"
LeGrand, who gets around with the aid of a motorized wheelchair, was well-received by the graduating class.
A resident of the Avenel section of Woodbridge, LeGrand recounted the story of his tragic October 2010 accident, how he felt at the time, and his long road to recovery.
LeGrand occasionally rolled his shoulders around to demonstrate the progress of his physical therapy.
"I'm moving my shoulders here. I'm moving myself forward," LeGrand said.
"Don't ever let anybody tell you you can't do something," LeGrand added before receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.
The ceremony began shortly after 12:30 pm, with each college being called forth individually, including those from the School of Arts and Sciences, the College of Nursing, the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
Deans from each college lead their students onto the field before University President Robert Barchi commending the Class of 2014 on the individual paths, beliefs, and values taken by each student.
Barchi then handed the microphone on to Interim Chancellor Dr. Richard L. Edwards, who after presenting two honorary degrees to Gerald C. Harvey and Richard E. Leakey, yielded to speaker Thomas H. Kean.
Kean had been selected to fill in for former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after student and faculty opposition to her receiving an honorary degree and giving the commencement address resulted in her backing out of the engagement.
Kean, who served as New Jersey's governor during the 1980's, quickly made reference to the Rice controversy after taking the podium.
"I'm told there's been a bit of fuss about the graduation speaker, here and elsewhere," he remarked.
"It's sort of like a body at an Irish wake. It's necessary, but you don't want it to intrude upon anything else that is going on."
The former governor acknowledged both the research capabilities of Rutgers, as well as the schools high rankings such as Times Higher Education.
Before closing, Kean briefly touched upon the U.S political system, pointing out the polarization he has noticed, and the resulting gridlock.
"We need to get to know each other, it's the only way we'll know that compromise isn't a dirty word," Kean added.
"Help preserve those precious ideas that define this country, and help us in this country, break this terrible political gridlock."
Barchi mentioned that Kean will donate his $35,000 speaking fee, which Rutgers had originally said Kean would not accept, to create a scholarship fund in LeGrand's name."
Students names were not individually read at the commencement ceremony, but they were invited to attend some of the 30 smaller commencement ceremonies held for individual schools and departments.