Wheelchair-bound student walks at graduation to honor late mom

A South Carolina high school graduate accomplished more than just getting his diploma when he crossed the stage last week.

Alex Mays did something during Saturday’s ceremony that brought the entire crowd to its feet before he even had a chance to move the tassel on his graduation cap.

Mays, who has used a wheelchair all his life, got up and walked across the stage at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum.


“I had support from my family – friends from church and school. I couldn’t have done it without them.”


The crowd responded with a standing ovation and several minutes of applause.

“I was really happy – it made me feel good,” Mays said.

“God has a purpose for him,” his grandmother Stephanie Dousay told WYFF News 4. “He’s gone through a lot.”

That might be an understatement for a young man who was not given the best odds at birth of surviving at all.

Mays was born at 25 weeks and weighed just 1 pound, 10 ounces at birth, Dousay said.

At some point during his early infancy, he suffered a spinal cord injury, possibly from a bacteria, Dousay said.

“His young life was not easy,” according to Dousay.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Wheelchair-bound student walks graduation stage to honor late mom, brings crowd to feet

Mays life got a lot more difficult after the tragic death of his mother in 2013, Dousay said.

Brandi Halsey Wilson Kearney was killed in December 2013 when a crane being hauled by a flatbed truck fell off the back and crushed her car as she drove along Pendleton Highway in Powdersville. Kearney died more than a week later.

After his mother’s death, Mays had several other difficult life-changes until he came to live with his grandparents, Dousay and her husband, Dewayne.

“He fell into our arms and we made up our minds we were going to rock this baby — and we did,” Dousay said.

Last fall, Mays decided he wanted to walk across the stage to get his diploma to honor his late mother. He said he practiced with crutches and worked with a physical therapist for nine months in order to reach his goal.

He asked his mother’s best friend, Tonya Johnson, to push his wheelchair to the stage wearing one of his mother’s favorite shirts — which added to the emotion of the moment, he said.

“I had support from my family – friends from church and school. I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.

“Alex was an inspiration to everyone in the building (that day),” Pickens County School District public information specialist John Eby said. “The school staff knew he was going to get up to get his diploma, but the distance he walked was a surprise, even to them,” Eby said.

“Some of life’s most important tests aren’t given in a classroom; Alex tested himself and passed with flying colors,” Eby said.

Source: WYFF