Norton High School student with spina bifida walks across stage for diploma

AKRON, Ohio -- A Norton High School senior walked for the very first time at his graduation ceremony Tuesday night.

Bryce Swartz was born with severe spina bifida and paralyzed from the chest down. The always upbeat 20-year-old has been through a lot, including a dozen surgeries, but was still voted the Panthers Homecoming King and received the “Courageous Student Award” from OHSAA.

His father Rod says, he has come a long way.

When Bryce was born, doctors didn’t think he’d survive past 18 months.

Tuesday night, he was determined to prove them wrong again by walking across the stage to get his diploma.

Both his father and mother, Beth, were nervous, but Bryce was excited and well prepared.

He’d been training and practicing for more than a year with his physical therapist assistant, Turranna Rice, at Akron Children’s Hospital.

“Bryce is one of the sweetest kids you’ll ever work with,” said Rice, “Doesn’t matter what you put him through.”

Bryce had to be fitted with special braces that work with the body’s momentum, and learn how to use quad canes, which requires a lot of upper-body strength, endurance and mental focus.

Before the ceremony, he worked with Rice one more time, and then easily walked across the stage where his father, who is a Norton teacher and coach, was waiting with his son's diploma.

While his classmates cheered wildly, Bryce flashed a big smile, hoping his efforts will inspire others to take the first step toward making their dreams come true.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” said Bryce.