High school graduation is a major milestone for many teens, but for Fernando Rodriguez, it was more than that. It was a dream come true.
Rodriguez, who has multiple sclerosis, has been confined to a wheelchair. But that never stopped him from setting his sights on what many may have deemed impossible: walking at graduation.
Rodriguez fulfilled that dream Sunday, stunning the audience at Rolling Meadows High School’s graduation by walking the 35 steps to the stage to accept his diploma.
"It felt surreal," he said. "Like I was walking on air."
The monumental achievement left many in the audience in tears.
"He gave a commencement speech on Sunday without saying a word, just by walking," said physical therapist Jason Keasling, "providing inspiration in every step that he took and motivation for students and staff and all that were in attendance."
Rodriguez was first featured on NBC 5’s Making a Difference as a young teen refusing to let multiple sclerosis define him. A team of teachers and trainers had created specialized equipment and a workout plan for him with one goal in mind.
"He goes, 'I’m going to graduate. More important, I want to walk the stage,'" said Mike Pone with the school’s student services. "And I said, 'OK, my job is to help you achieve your goals. We’re going to make it happen.' Done. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place."
Rodriguez said the experience was life-changing.
"I’m speechless on what [my mentors] did for me," he said.
Rodriguez hopes to become a film director. He will spend a transitional year learning to improve his mobility and navigate the community.
"It just shows me that I can’t complain about the little things," said instructional assistant and athletic trainer Michael Austin. "Always work toward your goals. Never quit, no matter obstacle is in your way."