High school graduation is a momentous day for any teen—a huge life milestone and a culmination of years of hard work. That was especially true for one Georgia grad, who left her peers stunned by what she did at commencement.
Darby Cochran, a 19-year-old senior at Pike County High School, was set to graduate on May 25—and everyone expected she’d be crossing the stage to accept her diploma in her wheelchair.
Cochran was born with cerebral palsy and relies on a motorized chair to get around.
None of her peers had ever seen her out of her chair—but this motivated her to try something extraordinary to finish her high school career:
She’d always dreamed of walking at graduation.
But what may have once been a far-off fantasy became a reality as graduation day approached. It turns out there have been major advancements in exoskeleton technology that could make her dream come true.
Kelly Moore, Cochran’s physical therapist from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, suggested that there might be an intuitive exoskeleton that would make walking possible.
“In this case, with Cochran, she initiates every step and she has to get the exoskeleton going, and then it’ll help her with the rest of her swing if she needs it,” Moore explained to Inside Edition.
However, it’s more difficult than it sounds. While the robotic technology made walking possible, Cochran had to put in plenty of hard work and practice to use it.
“She is probably one of the hardest-working patients that we’ve ever had and so determined and knew what she wanted and is now making it happen,” Moore said. “We’re just so proud of her.”
Cochran knew her longtime dream would be worth the effort to surprise her classmates.
“Making my friends cry happy tears,” Cochran said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
After a long period of practice, May 25 finally arrived. Cochran arrived at commencement in her wheelchair.
But when her name was called, everyone was stunned.
She got out of her chair and walked to receive her diploma!
The unexpected miracle shook the crowd, who gave Cochran a standing ovation as her classmates cheered her name.
“I’m just glad I was able to walk and show my friends what I’ve never done before,” Cochran said. “It makes me feel so good to see everybody’s reaction to me walking.”
It was a very special moment—especially for the people who worked with the teen over the years, who knew this was the result of Cochran’s unbreakable spirit and attitude.
“She rocks everything that she does because she has such an amazing smile and such a vibrant personality that you can’t help but be drawn to her,” pediatric nurse practitioner Anna-Lisa Tarabicos said.
“Her attitude is amazing and that’s what’s made her so successful because she has the vision, the drive [and] the support of her family.”