Paralyzed teen walks across stage to receive high school diploma

Paralyzed teen walks across stage to receive high school diploma (Image 1)

A California high school graduate who was paralyzed in a swimming accident when he was just 16-years-old walked across the stage to receive his high school diploma last week.

Zachary Pickett said he decided to walk across the stage as a surprise to his classmates.

“I was focusing more on the walking part,” Pickett said when asked by ABC News what it felt like to hear the crowd erupt in cheers.

He continued, “Ever since I started seeing some recovery, I knew it would be a good thing to be able to do,” he said. “I started with a walker and then have been moving to a cane, just trying to get progressively better at it.”

Pickett was a lifeguard at a lake when he dove into the water and struck a sandbar, breaking his C7 vertebra, which is the portion of the spinal column that descends from the skull.

The now 18-year-old high school graduate spent more than a week in the hospital before entering a rehabilitation center for three months.

Pickett told ABC News immediately following his accident doctors said they did not know exactly what his future would hold.

“It’s not really like the movies where they say, ‘You’ll never walk again,'” Pickett said. “They didn’t want to say you wouldn’t walk again but didn’t want to say you would to give you false hope.”

Despite his medical challenges, Pickett was able to graduate on time with his classmates.

He added that he plans to continue physical therapy to see what other obstacles he can overcome.

“I’m just trying to adapt to what I can do and to strengthen my legs and core to be as physically good as I can be with what I can do,” Pickett said.

Pickett will attend the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in the fall, which is six hours away from his Sacramento home, where he plans to study business.

*ABC News contributed to this report.

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