ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Thousands of people stood, applauded and cheered Tuesday night as a Volcano Vista High student crossed the graduation stage at Tingley Coliseum.
They were cheering for a triumph of the human spirit by 18-year-old Mel Phipps-Alderete who was suddenly and severely disabled a couple of years ago.
“We love him so much,” said Amilia Martinez, class of 2012. “He was nice to everyone. His hugs were famous.”
Everything was fine until the middle of his sophomore year when he developed a brain infection.
After emergency surgery, he was no longer able to talk or walk.
In addition to schoolwork, he had to re-learn basic skills like putting on his socks.
Last fall, APS told his family he would not be able to walk with his classmates at graduation because he was a few credits short and it was against district policy.
Then 24,000 people signed an online petition to let Mel don a cap and gown.
Facing that, the district backed down and said Mel could join his classmates.
“We fought really hard for him to walk,” said 2012 graduate Evalyn Montoya, who has known Mel since middle school. “We just wanted to be here.”
Mel is still getting tutoring and therapy at home.
His graduation party is this weekend.