A strong desire to triumph over adversity propelled Deshanaro "Day Day" Morris to walk across stage to receive his diploma 18 months after the former Sweet Home High School football star was paralyzed in a car crash.
It was the same drive he had used to lead the Sweet Home Panthers to a state football championship a month before the accident and the same drive that he vows will have him walking unassisted one day.
"I have accepted this challenge and made the best of it. I will always overcome adversity," Morris told his classmates before sharing an inspirational poem with them, during Sweet Home's 2010 commencement ceremony, in the Center for the Arts on the University at Buffalo's North Campus in Amherst.
About an hour later, Morris, using a walker, took slow but deliberate steps across the stage toward Principal Joleen Reinholz to receive his diploma, which was greeted with a standing ovation and cheers of encouragement from his classmates.
"Right now, I actually feel like a champion," a jubilant Morris told reporters shortly after he left the stage.
Leaving his wheelchair and walking across the stage was a promise he had made to his classmates several months ago, Morris said.
Earlier in the evening, he spoke to his classmates from his wheelchair, recalling how his life had changed in an instant during the early-morning hours on Jan. 1, 2009. Morris was a passenger in a sport utility vehicle that spun out of control on snow-slick North Forest Road and slammed into a utility pole.
"My first instinct was to get out," he recalled.
"I opened the door, took two steps and collapsed on the snowy ground. My body felt like it was floating off the ground. My insides felt twisted and a burning sensation moved throughout my stomach and my waist."
Morris said he had clear thoughts about his life and his future as he lay motionless.
"I knew I was paralyzed. I knew that my football career was over. I knew that I wasn't going home to my family that night," he said.
After grappling with the unanswerable question -- "Why me?" -- a brief but pointed conversation Morris had with his physician was all he needed to help adjust his attitude.
"I felt sorry for myself in the beginning, and the doctor told me something one day. He said that I was lucky to be alive. He said that all my years of playing sports and building my body had saved my life. If it were anybody else sitting in the back seat, that person wouldn't be with us today. From that point forward, I stopped feeling sorry for myself," he said.
Morris plans to attend college and major in physical education.
"I'm going to [Niagara County Community College] for a year and then I'm transferring to Edinboro (Pa.) University and join the football team down there. I talked to the head coach there and he said I could come down and join the team," Morris told reporters.
"Hopefully, I can come back to Sweet Home High School and be the head coach one day," he added.