As Shane Mosko walked across the stage Sunday night to get his Florida International University diploma, everyone in the room stood and cheered. Some even cried.
That’s because Mosko, 25, has been paralyzed from his waist down since a 2012 car accident. Through his determination — and the help of a robotic exoskeleton and walking sticks — he powered his way across the stage without using his wheelchair.
“I didn’t expect the whole student body to stand up for me,” he said after the graduation. “I had so many people tell me that I was an inspiration.”
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Mosko was one of more than 400 who graduated in the university’s last fall 2017 commencement ceremony Sunday night. He was recognized as a Worlds Ahead graduate, which is a special distinction for students who go beyond what is expected.
“Many graduates are going to cross our stage this evening, but for our next Worlds Ahead graduate, Shane Mosko, walking across the stage is nothing short of a miracle,” FIU President Mark Rosenberg said. “Fierce determination. That’s what’s guided him over the past five years.”
Mosko, who grew up in Pembroke Pines, moved to Connecticut in his junior year of high school because his dad got a new job. He adapted pretty quickly, made friends and played soccer.
He graduated high school and went on to college. He was working as a bar-back and waiter while he went to school, and was playing sports for fun.
Then, on Sept. 30, 2012, everything changed. The then-20-year-old went out with some buddies, drank and convinced his friend he was OK to drive the mile home.
“I made a bad decision,” he said. “I was only thinking about going home and sleeping in my own bed.”
He never made it. He was about a half-mile from his driveway when he lost control of his car. He said the car fell off an embankment about 8 to 10 feet and burst into flames. Not wearing a seat belt, he said, saved his life because he was ejected before the car caught on fire. No other cars were involved in the wreck.
He was rushed to a hospital and kept in an induced coma for 30 days. When he woke up he learned he had a T-12 spinal cord injury. He was told he may never walk again.
“I realized right away I wasn’t going to get anywhere by dwelling on the negative,” he said. “I had to accept responsibility for my bad decision and make the best of it.”
Mosko was determined to prove his doctors and everyone else wrong. Two weeks into his recovery he saw someone who was four years into his recovery from a spinal cord injury using a contraption that helped him walk. That gave Mosko the motivation he needed to press on.
“I knew from there I was going to learn how to walk again,” he said.
He took a semester off from school and began learning how to function with his new limitations. He finished his associate’s degree in Connecticut and then transferred to FIU — because he was ready to get back to the sun — in 2015.
It was his first time living on his own. He very quickly learned he was capable of doing everything he set his mind to. He even traveled abroad.
Walking across the stage at graduation had been something he set as a goal early on.
While studying marketing and international business, he also got involved with Ekso Bionics, a company that makes the exoskeleton contraption, which uses sensors. He served as an ambassador, marketing the product by visiting hospitals and rehabilitation centers across the nation. Now that he is a graduate, he hopes to join the company full time.
With the help of the local Neurofit 360 rehabilitation center, he was able to use the contraption to make his dream come true.
“For me, walking across the stage was a personal goal,” he said.
After the more than 400 graduates received their diplomas, Mosko stepped onto the ramp, walked up to Rosenberg, shook his hand, and held the scroll high in the air.
His mother, Gail Mosko, surrounded by the rest of Shane’s family, wiped her tears with one hand and held her tablet up with the other, not wanting to miss a moment of her son’s big day.
“I never thought I would see this day,” she said. “But he’s done it through determination and hard work. This is huge.”