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Paralyzed Calgary graduate walks across the stage to receive diploma

As thousands of Calgary high school students are set to graduate in the next little while, graduation day marked so much more than an ordinary milestone for one family.

Alex McEwan walked across the stage at the Jubilee Auditorium to accept his diploma on Monday — something that a couple years ago, wasn’t a guarantee.

“This is my day,” Alex said. “I want to make this my day.”

In January 2016 McEwan was paralyzed from the waist down in a tobogganing accident. He’s been confined to a wheelchair ever since. But on this day his friends and family got to see him upright, standing and walking with the help of an innovative machine. McEwan got the rare opportunity to use an exoskeleton to help him walk across the stage.

“It was tough to keep it together. I almost broke into tears,” Alex said. “It was unreal to hear them scream and cheer. I’m so happy I put in the work in because I will never get a moment like this again, I will never get the chance again and I’m glad I took it.”

Alex McEwan in his exoskeleton

Jill Croteau

His mom, Stella McEwan, has been helping him achieve this dream.

“I knew it was coming and I was waiting with anticipation and when I saw him and just the cheering and standing ovation,” Stella said.

“It was the most emotional moment of my life. That was more emotional than when he was born.”

This was also a surprise to all of his fellow graduates and even extended family. The room erupted with emotion. Alex’s grandmother Rita Efthimiou couldn’t hold back the tears.

“I’m waiting for wheelchair and I see him walking and now I’m bawling and I say to the people beside me, ‘That’s my grandson.’ It was very emotional,” Efthimiou said.

Alex McEwan in his exoskeleton in front of proud family and friends

Jill Croteau

His physiotherapist, Kyle McIntosh, was compelled to help get the exoskeleton as a loan for the day to help Alex “get his legs back.”

“I was super nervous but we practised and rehearsed and we felt confident, but you get here and see the crowd the lights, it’s a different setting, but I think we nailed it,” McIntosh said.

Now that Alex has graduated he plans to head to Lethbridge in the fall and wants to become a teacher.

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