Kevin Hillery becomes first paraplegic to graduate from the Naval Academy.
A 22-year-old man who was paralyzed in a freak mountain biking accident last year became the first paraplegic to graduate from the Naval Academy on Tuesday.
The crowd at the elite Annapolis academy's commencement broke into thunderous applause when Kevin Hillery wheeled up a ramp to receive his sheepskin in economics.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the ceremony's keynote speaker, welcomed Hillery with a hearty handshake, some chummy backslaps and spent a few extra moments chatting with him, according to video posted on ABC News.
Hillery then punctuated the historic feat by popping a wheelie down a ramp as he exited the stage to cheers.
The brave Massachusetts native was paralyzed from the waist down in April 2011 while mountain biking in the Shenandoah Valley with three of his fellow midshipmen.
A storm rolled in and a tree fell on him, breaking his back.
Hillery broke his back in April 2011 after a tree fell on him while he was mountain biking.
Hillery said his friends saved his life by building a small shelter out of blankets and bikes and going for help.
The injury left his future at the academy uncertain, and his family had to convince the school to let him back in.
He received word over Christmas that he would be able to return to the school in the spring and graduate with his class.
"It was just one of the happiest times of my life," Hillery told WBALTV. "I've loved the four years here."
Hillery said he's had to give up his dream of being a Navy Seal, but has plans to go to law school.
"I don't think I've been as proud of Kevin as I have been in the last 12 months since his injury to just really the inner real core of him," Frank Hillery told WBALTV.
"When the chips are down, when life is tough, you really see the true qualities of an individual."
With News Wire Services
Hillery popped a wheelie as he exited the stage on Tuesday, prompting cheers from his fellow graduates. (ABCNews.com)
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