After experiencing see-saw emotions over the past 24 hours, former Rutgers defensive lineman Eric LeGrand will speak at Rutgers graduation ceremonies next weekend. The reversal comes just a day after he learned the university had invited former Gov. Tom Kean to speak at graduation despite previously offering that role to LeGrand over the weekend.
Last week, scheduled commencement speaker Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, backed out due to a backlash on campus over her connection to the George W. Bush administration. No replacement was named until Monday when Kean was formally unveiled as the graduation speaker.
But on Saturday night, the Rutgers chief of staff reached out to LeGrand to offer him the same speaking role, nearly two days before Kean was formally announced. For a university that has taken some pretty big punches the last year, it was another prominent black eye.
LeGrand found out on Monday via a voicemail from athletic director Julie Hermann he had been bumped off the stage. In the message, she voiced concern for him and promised to continue fighting for him to speak at graduation. Then on Tuesday afternoon, university president Robert Barchi called to re-extend the offer to LeGrand.
“The president and I talked over everything,” LeGrand told Metro New York. “He told me about the miscommunication and that he was looking forward to me addressing the class.”
Since being paralyzed midway through the 2010 season, LeGrand has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and won an ESPY as his story has inspired not just the handicap community but the entire nation.
He will not only be a speaker on Saturday but also a graduate. He tells Metro the idea of speaking at his graduation has been in the back of his mind “as a possibility ever since I got injured.”
It is also a relief for the player whose No. 52 is retired and hangs above the football stadium.
On Monday, LeGrand took to Twitter to let the world know the offer to speak had been rescinded by the university. Barchi drew criticism for the withdrawal of the offer to LeGrand and in a statement released on Tuesday afternoon said, “We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate.”
After the offer was made over the weekend LeGrand began to think about what he wanted to say to his fellow members of the graduating class.
“I started to think about it, and then I thought about it all weekend long,” LeGrand said. “Then I heard about the decision and I was a little upset. A lot of people had heard about it, and a lot of people questioned why I wasn't speaking anymore.”
As far as his role at graduation, he doesn't know if he or Kean will speak first or what the time frame will be for his remarks.
While he's begun to prepare for what he promises to be “the best speech I've ever made” he also won't prepare notes or an outline for it. The remarks, he says “will come from my heart as they always do.”
“I want them to know to appreciate their life, where they've come and where they're going. If you work hard, you can overcome things,” LeGrand said. “It's not an easy world out there — things are tough — but we all have to work hard and always keep working hard to achieve our goals.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.