Paralyzed Graduate Says Determination Got Him to Where He is Today

Student aided by exoskeleton walks across stage to receive diploma

A highlight from Reynolds Community College's spring Commencement Ceremony which has garnered national attention was the almost miraculous feat undertaken by Khalil Watson. Khalil, a Pre-Social Work student, walked across the stage to receive his diploma aided by a robotic exoskeleton suit.

Khalil had been shot in the neck in 2016, resulting in a spinal cord injury rendering him paralyzed from the neck down. Hospitalized and unable to attend his high school prom and graduation makes this graduation even more meaningful.

The past seven years have taken him from not being able to breathe, eat, or speak on his own, to earning his associate’s degree and being able to walk with the help of the exoskeleton — which is nothing short of a miracle.

Sheltering Arms Institute played a major role in his progress and in being able to help him achieve his goals. Khalil credits much of his success to his therapists.

“If it wasn’t for my therapists I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve always been strong mentally and always knew I wanted to go to school,” said Khalil in a CBS 6 News interview.

The exoskeleton suit, which was lent to Khalil by Sheltering Arms, was developed by Ekso Bionics. These wearable robotics are designed to enhance the user’s strength and endurance. They help thousands of patients with loss of ability and cognition challenges. The robotic bodysuits not only improve physical movements but also empower the wearer by giving them back their freedom and dignity.

Spurred by his own tragic experiences, Khalil wanted to pursue social work to help others in the same or similar situations as himself. At Reynolds, he took classes to earn his associate’s degree in Pre-Social Work, which will be a stepping stone for him. He plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall, to get his bachelor’s and then his master’s degree in social work.

May 15 was the beginning of a bright journey for Khalil. He crossed the stage amongst a roar of cheers and applause. We couldn’t be prouder of Khalil in all that he has achieved and look forward to seeing what great things he’ll accomplish.