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After initial snub, Eric LeGrand to speak at Rutgers commencement

By Mike Singer | CBSSports.com

**** Update: Former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand will be speaking at the school's 2014 commencement, according to a statement released on Tuesday afternoon by school President Robert Barchi.

"Eric LeGrand will speak at our commencement and personally receive his degree from me as a representative of the Class of 2014."

"It was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker. We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate."

"Eric holds a special place in the hearts of the Class of 2014 and the entire university community. We are thrilled that he will be joining us on stage to make this special occasion ever more memorable."

It must be noted that the school's amendment only came after widespread disapproval on social media, and it begs the question why AD Julie Hermann would call LeGrand and tell him that the school was going to go "in a different direction," regarding the commencement speaker. Well, according to Barchi's statement, it was all a miscommunication, and now the graduating students will hear from LeGrand.

As a reminder:

****

Former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand has become both a celebrity and an ambassador since he sustained a paralyzing neck injury in 2010. Despite everything he's been through, he's maintained an ever-present smile on his face.

Given his story, LeGrand appeared to be an excellent choice for Rutgers' May 18th commencement speech.

“I was just going to tell them my story,” he said via CBSNewYork, after receiving an invitation to deliver the speech from school President Robert Barchi's chief of staff, Gregory Jackson, this past Saturday. “Starting in 2005, being recruited by Rutgers and what it meant to me to play here and go to school here. And then the way everyone supported me through my injury. I was just going to give them inspirational words about how they should attack life.”

No one would appear to be more suited to do so than LeGrand.

The former football player took the call and offer from Jackson with plans to touch base on Monday to finalize the invite. Then, according to LeGrand, he received a call from AD Julie Hermann, informing him that the offer had been rescinded and that the school would instead have former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean address the students.

“Gov. Kean's career as a public servant, educator and statesman speaks to the civility, integrity and vision that we hope will guide our graduates as they pursue their careers or further their studies,” President Robert Barchi said in a statement. “Gov. Kean is a national role model as a statesman who built bridges across partisan, racial, ethnic and ideological divides for the sole purpose of improving the quality of life for the people he served. We are honored that he has accepted our invitation to address the graduates.”

Many of those same attributes could easily be used to describe LeGrand's character. He's well-known for the motivational speeches he's given across the country since his injury.

For what it's worth, LeGrand said that both Hermann and football coach Kyle Flood pushed to have him offer his remarks to the graduates.

"[Hermann told me] 'I was pushing for you, but President Barchi decided to go in a different direction because of political reasons. But he wants you to come to the ceremony. He wants to personally give you your degree,'" Hermann told LeGrand, via The Star Ledger.

Political reasons? That's supposed to suffice? LeGrand reportedly called Jackson twice on Monday looking for an explanation, but those calls went unreturned.

“I'm very upset about it,” LeGrand said, who in fact earned his degree in labor studies this past January. “I was excited all weekend thinking about what I was going to say. It's rough.”

“I wasn't planning on going [to the graduation ceremony], until they offered me [the chance to speak]. I know that President Barchi wants to hand me my degree but now I'm hesitant. I feel like they offered me, then changed their mind.”

It's yet another questionable decision on the part of the Rutgers administration.

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