While Eric LeGrand’s status as Rutgers University’s commencement speaker has reportedly been reinstated, the situation has left an awkward mess in its wake.
LeGrand’s ongoing story is one of inspiration, perseverance and triumph over tragedy, but the latest chapter, authored by seemingly incompetent dolts, is one of inexplicably thoughtless actions based on either inept or just plain horrible judgement.
A former standout defensive tackle and special teams football player at Rutgers University, Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from a severe spinal cord injury, sustained while making a tackle on a kickoff return against Army in 2010.
LeGrand’s resolve to continue his life pursuits and education despite the injury makes the film, Rudy, look pedestrian by comparison. But as with most stories, villains inevitably step in, and for LeGrand’s story, those unsavory characters came in the form of Rutgers administrators who were like teachers during a fire drill: No class!
LeGrand was initially asked last week by Rutgers administrator, Gregory Jackson, to speak at the graduation ceremony. He was excited about the opportunity, as he said in a statement to USA Today:
“I was just going to tell them my story, about the whole process. Starting in 2005, being recruited by Rutgers and what it meant to me to play here and go to school here. And then the way everybody supported me through my injury, I was just going to give inspirational words about how they should attack life. All the things I’ve learned so far. All the (graduates), they’re my age so I was going to try to (say) words they could remember, words that would inspire them to do great things in life.”
But something in the Rutgers universe changed over the weekend. LeGrand was contacted by the university’s athletic director, Julie Hermann, who told Eric he wouldn’t be speaking after all – That they were going in a different direction “for political reasons.”
“I’m very upset about it,” said LeGrand. “I was all excited all weekend thinking about what I was going to say. It’s rough.”
And that’s about when the Rutgers community blew up in response, finding the retraction of Eric LeGrand’s invitation reprehensible, and a flurry of pressure via social media was heaped on the powers that be.
And what do you know? Magically, those powers apparently reconsidered LeGrand’s involvement. Rutgers President, Robert Barchi said in a statement released Tuesday:
“Eric LeGrand will speak at our Commencement and personally receive his degree from me as a representative of the Class of 2014.”
“It was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker. We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate.”
“Eric holds a special place in the hearts of the Class of 2014 and the entire university community. We are thrilled that he will be joining us on stage to make this special occasion even more memorable.”
With his typical grace and humble style, LeGrand responded via Twitter:
“After speaking with Pres. Barchi I will join Gov. Kean speaking at @RutgersU graduating class of 2014. Lets keep the focus on the graduates.”
As for Rutgers’ top administrators, it’s hard to imagine that they could bungle their 2014 commencement any more than they have.
Condoleeza Rice was also on, off, on, then off again as commencement speaker; the whining of some students and faculty causing a distraction that the administrators couldn’t handle. Fortunately for Rutgers, Rice gracefully declined to participate.
Hopefully, Eric LeGrand can shine some light on those dim souls who are running Rutgers, while giving the graduates something worthwhile and long remembered.
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