NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston Southern University graduated its largest class in university history on Saturday, but that wasn’t the only milestone.
While more than 770 students crossed the stage, Caroline Walsh, got more than one standing ovation.
Walsh has cerebral palsy, and was born to a drug-addicted mother and was adopted at a young age.
Doctors told the family she may not make it past her toddler years. However, on Saturday, she graduated Cum Laude with her degree in communications studies and a minor in theater.
CSU President Dondi Costin spoke about Walsh at the graduation.
“I am introducing to you right now the person that I think is the most heroic student I have ever met,” he said. “Your classmate, Caroline Walsh, she is our first of two commencement speakers this morning. For the last four years, she faced severe physical challenges. Her father pushed her in this wheelchair to every single class for four straight years.”
Caroline Walsh then took the stage as her father, Bill, watched proudly in the audience.
“We have all had people walk beside us on our journey, people who believed in us. I, literally, had my dad, who many of you know, by my side each day," Caroline said.
Bill attended every class, typed up notes and was instrumental in his daughter’s education.
“People in my life, especially my family, taught me not to let my disability define me or let my physical challenges keep me from following my dreams,” Walsh said during her speech. “Never allow whatever struggles you face in life to stop you from pursuing your dreams. Always believe in yourself. We have been given the tools and can do whatever we set our minds to. Just look at me!”
At the end of the graduation ceremony, Bill got a special surprise.
“At this point we have a very special presentation to make,” President Costin said to the crowd. “To Mr. Bill Walsh, we ask you to come forward.”
Walsh was then given an honorary Bachelor of Arts degree for all he’s done to support his daughter.
“I cried a little bit," Bill said. “And I engulfed him. I hugged him. I went to shake his hand, but I just hugged him." The room erupted in applause and the audience got to their feet.
Caroline said she knew the school was planning something special but didn’t know it was going to be an honorary degree.
“He deserves it,” she said.
Caroline and Bill Walsh said they are grateful for the faculty and staff at Charleston Southern University. They gave a special shout-out to theater professor, Thomas Keating, who said it was great having the pair in class.
“The coolest thing about having them together in class was, no offense Bill wherever you are, there’s an age gap and Bill brought great wisdom to the class," Keating said. He also described how Caroline led activities to teach the class what it is like to be in a wheelchair.
Caroline said she has been working with President Costin to make the campus more accessible. Her dream job is to work at Disney World. She also wants to help make the parks more accessible for other people in a wheelchair.