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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A touching moment during a high school graduation Wednesday as a teen, who was left paralyzed after he was shot, surprised everyone at the ceremony.

“I’m really happy and really blessed to be here. I could have died,” Aaron Willis told CBS4’s Gary Nelson. “But I’m still here and I graduated.”

There was no pomp, only tragic circumstance when we first met Willis.

He was just 15 when he was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back as he hurried home on his bicycle. It was a case of mistaken identity.

Even then, this student and athlete with a wall full of football trophies was not bitter, but thankful for those who loved him.

We watched an upbeat Willis return to school nine months later in a wheelchair.

A year after he was shot, Willis began to walk with braces from waist to foot and a walker – a remarkable stride, he says.

But on his graduation day, Willis intended to really walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma.

Willis’ dad and mom, who cried so many tears in heartache, cried a different sort of tear this is graduation day.

“They are tears of joy and tears of knowing there is a God somewhere,” said Willis’ father, Sammie.

Finally the moment arrived and his named was called.

Using special robotic legs he received from the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and after lots of practice, Willis walked onstage.

“They never let me get down. They never let me get discouraged,” he said. “So today, I’m not walking for myself, I’m walking for my parents.”

A young man who could have been a quitter after a twist of inner city violent fate was selfless as he walked to receive the diploma he worked so hard to earn.

Willis was accepted to Florida International University – just a day before his graduation – which he will attend on scholarship.

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