‘Anything is possible’: Paralyzed student walks across graduation stage with robotic exoskeleton

After recovering from 2016 shooting, Khalil Watson walks across stage to receive associate degree from Reynolds Community College
Khalil Watson walks across the stage in his cap and gown. (Video credit: Sheltering Arms)
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 2:07 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT/Gray News) - Khalil Watson walked across the stage in his cap and gown Monday with help from therapists and a wearable robotic exoskeleton.

Watson, 25, was shot in the neck in May 2016, causing a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed.

“It’s been a journey; it’s been lots of ups and downs,” Watson said. “I had to learn how to eat, speak and breathe on my own.”

During his time in the hospital, Watson had to stream his high school graduation while in bed.

“Not being able to graduate physically was hard for me to deal with, but being able to still attend virtually is what made things a lot easier,” he said.

A robotic exoskeleton - is giving one local student a chance to walk across the stage for graduation.

Over the last seven years, Watson has been working to regain his mobility and independence while working toward another goal to continue his education.

“After going through the things that I have experienced, I’ve been focused,” Watson said.

His path led him to enroll at Reynolds Community College to further his future in social work.

“I have a passion for helping others, and after going through the things that I have experienced, I feel like I’ll be easy to connect with and understand individuals who have similar or worse situations,” he said.

Watson graduated with an associate degree in pre-social work and achieved another milestone by walking across the stage at the Siegel Center. Therapists from the Sheltering Arms Institute also assisted as he was met by cheers and applause from the crowd.

For the last two weeks, Watson has been practicing his walk in the cutting-edge technology, a moment that has meant the world to him.

“I did this for God, myself, friends, my family. I mean if people only knew how I got to this point,” said Watson.

A moment Watson said shows “anything is possible.”

“In life, you’re going to experience ups and downs,” said Watson. “We just have to keep going.”

After graduation, Watson plans to transfer to VCU to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.