Each of the hundreds of University of Nebraska Omaha graduates walked a difficult road before they walked across the graduation stage Friday.
Taryn Schaaf waited in the wings wearing a smile. The social work major spent years working toward graduation—the diploma is special. But standing up to accept brought a big smile too.
Schaaf was injured in an ATV crash seven years ago. She fought to recover from the severe neck injury that initially left her unable to do most everything.
“I had to learn how to talk again, write again, do everything myself,” she said.
That took months. Being comfortable enough to stand and walk across the Baxter Arena graduation stage took years too.
“I stand with a walker. When I shift my weight one way, that'll make my leg move, and when I shift my weight the other way, that'll make my leg move,” Schaaf said explaining the machine.
KMTV was with Taryn in 2013 as she tested a robotic exoskeleton system at QLI, a rehabilitation center in Omaha.
She also invited us to watch her preparation this week ahead of graduation.
Her parents, Jay and Tammy Schaaf, have watched the progress.
“As parents, we're very proud of her. But if she can inspire someone to set a goal and reach it, more power to them,” Jay Schaaf said.
“It’s nice to stand up and look people in the eye instead of just looking up at them all the time,” said Tammy Schaaf.
Her family says Taryn did not want to go to graduation if she couldn’t walk with her classmates. They fought back tears as she smiled while holding her UNO diploma.
“I wasn't as nervous until I got right up to the podium. And I was really nervous then,” Taryn said.
“I was going to back to the day the accident happened and what she had to go through to get to this. And to see she made it with flying colors was a proud moment,” said Tammy Schaaf.
The family credited QLI specialist and UNO staff for all their help making sure Taryn’s walk was successful.
Taryn plans to pursue her graduate degree immediately after graduation.