UPDATE (2:43PM): Rutgers issued a brief announcement afternoon declaring that Eric LeGrand will speak at the commencement ceremony, calling it a “miscommunication” and saying “it was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker.”
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Local hero Eric LeGrand, a Middlesex County native who was paralyzed playing football for Rutgers, says the school invited him to give the 2014 commencement speech before callously retracting the offer.
In the wake of protests against her, the scheduled speaker, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, withdrew from her commitment to speak at the ceremony Saturday morning.
Later that day, LeGrand says Greg Jackson, Chief of Staff to Rutgers University President Bob Barchi called him Saturday night to invite him to give the commencement address.
“[Jackson] asked if I could do Rutgers a favor and give the commencement speech,” said LeGrand, who is graduating after taking classes throughout his rehabilitation process.
The honor would have been especially poignant for LeGrand, one of the thousands of students graduating on May 18 at the Rutgers football stadium.
“He goes, ‘Yeah, absolutely. Talk it over with your family this weekend. Let’s touch base again Monday,'” LeGrand told the Ledger. “I was all amped all weekend. I was like, ‘This is perfect. I’m going to have to give a speech to everybody.'”
Raised in the Avenel section of Woodbridge, LeGrand sufferred a serious football injury during his sophomore year in 2010 and has since been embraced by the larger Rutgers and New Jersey communities.
He told the Star-Ledger that he spent much of the weekend thinking of what he would tell his classmates in the speech, but his hopes were dashed when he rceived a call from embattled Athletic Director Julie Hermann, who broke the news to him that former Governor Thomas Kean had been named to the post.
LeGrand said he was “hurt” and questioned the motives behind the decision, saying that Hermann told him the school “decided to go other ways for political reasons.”
The Rutgers administration has not yet responded to LeGrand’s allegations, which first surfaced on his personal Twitter and Facebook pages.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.