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A young, disabled man gives a public speech, but the audience erupts when he says these words
A young, disabled man gives a public speech, but the audience erupts when he says these words. - photo by Emily Brady
Earning a college degree is a huge accomplishment for anyone, but it was an especially large feat for Grant Stoner, a young man who recently graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

Before Grant was a year old, his parents knew something was wrong. Their little boy couldnt sit up on his own, roll or crawl. Doctor's confirmed their fears when they diagnosed him with spinal muscular dystrophy type 2 at 13 months old. This meant Grant would never be able to walk or use his hands.

The disease worsened as Grant grew older. By adolescence, he had lost most of his motor skills.

Despite his physical limitations, Grant was determined to go to college. He did not want his disability to define him or dictate his future. While his body has limited functions, his mind works perfectly. Throughout college, Grant excelled in school.

When the time to for graduation came around, Grant learned he had won the Duquesne University's Liberal Arts General Excellence Award and that he would be addressing his classmates at commencement ceremonies.

"I was shocked when they told me," he said. "I thought they would have given it to someone who has done more than me."

Mike Dillon, associate professor of journalism and multimedia arts, said it was Grants humility that made him stand out.

"His optimism and perseverance in the face of profound challenges have made a tremendous impression on his peers," Dillon said.

Grant decided he wanted to talk about strength

But not physical strength, he said. Because I dont have any.

Before he was going to speak, Grant was having trouble breathing, but he still wanted to deliver his speech. Because he did not have the physical strength to do so, Dr. Sarah Miller, chair of the Classics Department, spoke for him.

Dr. Miller, with Grant by her side, read off a list of people Grant wanted thank for the award: The journalism department, for offering refuge to a "disabled student who wants nothing more than to write about video games, and jokes of becoming an Olympic athlete, the Classics Department, who taught him about ancient societies "and how poorly they treated people with disabilities, his academic advisor, Bill Klewien, "for putting up with my relentless amount of wheelchair jokes" his friends, without whom "I would not have been able to survive and his family for "their continuous love and support."

But most of all, Grant wanted to thank his mom

For five years, Claudia Stoner drove her son to school, went to class with him and took notes.

You have sacrificed everything to make sure I could succeed, Grant said. The countless hours of sleepless nights, the long car rides stuck in traffic and our occasional arguments never deterred you. Thank you for being my nurse, my scribe and my mother. Also, thank you for buying satellite radio. I love you, but sometimes I just have to drown you out in some music.

Near the end of the graduation ceremony, James Swindal, Professor and Dean of the McAnulty College of Liberal Arts, asked Claudia, who was sitting in the audience, to stand.

"Of all the people in the audience who didn't receive a diploma tonight," Swindal said, "no one deserves one more than Claudia Stoner."

For three uninterrupted minutes, the crowd stood and cheered for Claudia.

Grant plans to continue his education at Doquesne University to earn a master's degree in public history.

As long as you have the strength to do it, you can do anything, Grant said. It doesnt matter your limitations."
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