Published Online: June 25, 1997

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Walking tall at graduation

For Chuck Aldridge, earning a high school diploma was the easy part. Collecting his sheepskin was far more difficult.

Mr. Aldridge, who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair, fulfilled a dream when he stood and walked across the stage this month to a standing ovation at South Stokes High School in Walnut Cove, N.C.

"I knew I was going to do it. I told myself it's either walk across the stage or don't go across at all," Mr. Aldridge said in an interview last week. "I've got a lot of determination. I hate for people to tell me I can't do stuff. I'm going to show them I can do it."

Mr. Aldridge, who uses a walker when he's out of his wheelchair, had boasted for months of his plans to leave the chair at the stage ramp for the June 7 graduation ceremony. Many of his fellow 233 seniors wondered if he was being realistic.

But the 20-year-old had worked for three years in regular sessions with a physical therapist during school. By the time he graduated, he could take 300 steps. He needed only 50 to claim his diploma.

With the help of the therapist and a teachers' assistant, he maneuvered across the stage as his classmates and their families who packed the school's football stadium cheered him on.

"It was very emotional for everybody when he got up and went across the stage," said Assistant Principal Craig Bowles. "There were a lot of teary eyes among the seniors and parents. It was just a very moving moment."

Especially for Mr. Aldridge's mother, Tina Coe.

"It was a wonderful feeling to know that he had worked so hard and he has succeeded," Ms. Coe said.

Mr. Aldridge's next goal?

"Before long I won't be in a wheelchair. I want to get rid of it," he said. "I want to encourage other people to do the things that they set their minds to do."

--KATHLEEN KENNEDY MANZO kmanzo@epe.org

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