MARYLAND

Kevin Hillery to become first paraplegic Naval Academy graduate

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It is a first for the United States Naval Academy. Among its 1,100 graduates will be a young man whose life changed forever when a tree fell on top of him.

Kevin Hillery, 22, is set to become the first ever paraplegic to graduate from the Naval Academy.

Hillery spent Memorial Day in Annapolis surrounded by family and friends preparing for a moment he thought might not come - graduation day.

"It was a really unprecedented case, so it just took a long time," Hillery said.

His journey began last April while biking in the Shenandoah with three fellow midshipmen. As a storm rolled in, Cullen Smith and James Barker watched a tree crash down on top of their friend.

"It was pretty terrifying. He wasn't breathing when we got to him. Honestly, we thought he was dead," Smith recalled.

The friends made a tent out of bikes and blankets and ran to a nearby home for help.

Hillery's family raced down from Vermont to be with him.

"En route we had a call from his surgeon who actually broke the news to us that it would be unlikely that he would ever walk," Kevin's father, Frank HIllery, added. 

Kevin had to give up the dream of being a Navy Seal. The family's focus turned to convincing the Navy to let him come back to school despite being paralyzed from the waist down.

"They are a rules based organization there was a process that had to occur," Frank said.

Midshipmen and friend James Barker added, "When they finally told him that he could come back, we were ecstatic. We really were."

Kevin came back this spring. Tuesday, he will get his degree in economics.

"I think it reflects well on the Naval Academy and the navy that they would stand by one of their own," Kevin said.

Frank exclaimed, "it will be the proudest moment of my life... to see Kevin throw his cover in the air."

While Kevin will not be serving in the Navy, he is considering attending law school.

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