Throughout a recent spell of bad press for Rutgers University, Eric LeGrand’s inspirational story of hope and recovery has remained the school’s most reliable and constant source of pride.
But now even LeGrand, the former Scarlet Knights defensive lineman who was paralyzed from the neck down making a tackle in a 2010 football game, is expressing disappointment at his soon-to-be alma mater, telling NJ.com he’s “hurt” after being pulled off of commencement speaking duties at his graduation just two days after he was asked to give the keynote address.
The merry-go-round took another spin Tuesday afternoon when the school said LeGrand would be given the opportunity to speak. He won’t be the only speaker.
“Eric LeGrand will speak at our commencement and personally receive his degree from me as a representative of the Class of 2014,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said in a statement. “It was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker. We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate.”
Acording to NJ.com, Greg Jackson, Barchi’s chief of staff, contacted LeGrand by phone on Saturday, while LeGrand was at a fundraiser for spinal cord research in Sunrise, Florida. Jackson asked LeGrand if he was interested in speaking at Rutgers’ graduation on May 18 — in place of former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who over the weekend backed out of her commitment to give the speech, adding that the two would touch base Monday.
LeGrand said he touched base with Jackson on Monday morning as he prepared to fly back to New Jersey from Florida, and intended to formally accept the invitation in a planned call later that day. But when LeGrand finally got home Monday evening, he received a call from Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann informing him that former New Jersey governor Tom Kean would be giving the address instead.
“She told me, ‘I was pushing for you, but President Barchi decided to go in another direction for political reasons. But he wants you to come to the ceremony. He wants to personally give you your degree,’” LeGrand told NJ.com. “I just didn’t know how to feel. I was hurt. They offered me this on Saturday and then they take it back on Monday. I was like, ‘Why?’”
Unfortunately for LeGrand, who had his number retired at Rutgers’ football field — the site of the university-wide commencement — and has spent much of the last few years traveling the country telling his story, the “why” still hasn’t been cleared up. LeGrand told NJ.com that Jackson did not return two phone calls seeking explanation Monday night. The school also did not respond to requests by NJ.com for comment.
“I just feel like I was offered something and it was taken back and I don’t know the reasons why,” LeGrand told NJ.com. “I wasn’t told the reasons why. I thought I was a good fit for the position to do it. I thought I could do the job, but I guess they thought different.”
LeGrand is set to graduate with a degree in labor relations.
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