Paralyzed student walks to get his diploma -- his message to others living with disabilities

Posted at 6:10 PM, May 16, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- The wait to have his name called at the Reynolds Community College graduation ceremony did not bother Khalil Watson.

He knew all too well the work it took to get to this moment in his life.

“It felt great knowing that all of my hard work has paid off and I'm being rewarded and acknowledged," he said.

While that is true for all the graduates, Watson has never walked across a graduation stage in his life, for a different reason.

In 2016, he was shot in the neck, just weeks before his high school graduation, and paralyzed from the neck down.

Years of specialized therapy led to Monday night, where with the help of a robotic exoskeleton on loan from Sheltering Arms Physical Therapy, Watson walked across the stage to receive his degree. The crowd, like Watson, stood and provided a loud, long ovation.

"Having to see from the hospital bed in high school and now be able to actually experience it physically means a lot to me," he said. “If it wasn't for God and my family and friends and my therapists, I wouldn't have been able to experience this moment so it feels great.”

We previously chronicled Watson's journey to Monday night.

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Paralyzed from the neck down, how he's now able to walk at college graduation

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Watson has an innate drive to accomplish his goals.

It helped him relearn how to speak and breathe, regain some small movements with his arms, and now earn his associate's degree.

While he is far from the bragging type, Waston said if someone else living with a disability saw his story, there is a takeaway beyond the extraordinary moment of his graduation walk.

“I just want to let them know that anything is possible, and despite their circumstances, just keep going," Watson said.

Watson plans to attend VCU in the fall to pursue his bachelor's and master's degrees in social work. He said he want to help people overcome difficult circumstances.

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