By Courtney Fahy
On Oct. 7, Eric LeGrand returned to area high school to speak to the students of both Hanover Park and Whippany Park high schools.
LeGrand previously spoke to the senior class of Hanover Park in May where he did a prom-posal to then senior Giana Brunini. He was such a success with the senior students of Hanover Park that he was asked to come back to speak to the rest of the student body as well as the students of Whippany Park.
The students chose LeGrand’s book “Believe” as the school’s One Book One School initiative after a district-wide vote. “Believe” is his first book. Eric LeGrand, a former defensive tackle for Rutgers University, was paralyzed from the neck down during a football game on Oct. 16, 2010 while making a tackle.
Before his arrival, students were eagerly preparing. In addition to wearing red and black, their colors as well as Rutgers’, Tara Kelly, a social studies teacher and coach at Hanover Park High School, elaborated on their fundraising efforts.
“We were selling fliers that said ‘Team Believe’ and they all wrote down their names, what they believe in, and donated a dollar,” explained Kelly. As a result of their fundraising efforts, they were able to make a donation of $1,000 to the Christopher Reeve’s foundation in honor of Eric LeGrand.
In addition to the donation from the fliers, Kelly stated that LeGrand was gifted with a hornets jersey that had ‘52 LeGrand’ on the back. “He was very surprised. Our school prides itself on the quote ‘We are family.’ It’s a big school quote, and we told him ‘You are part of our family and never forget no matter where you go or what you accomplish we are always here to support you.”
Christopher Kelly, the principal of Whippany Park, explained how Whippany Park and Hanover Park high schools teamed up for the event by stating, “We established a relationship with Principal Tom Callanan at Hanover Park High School and I wanted LeGrand to talk to our kids because he was so inspiring and the kids love him. We had a week of respect, so we really wanted to pair it with that. He came for free and spoke to the kids and it was fabulous.”
Giana Brunini came back to the high school for the assembly, and she and the student body were treated to an early look at an episode of LeGrand’s web series “Mission Possible.” Brunini is in the episode, and Tara Kelly stated that “Everyone had the chills. It was such a beautiful thing.”
The students had the opportunity to ask LeGrand questions and take photos with him after the assembly.
“He probably took over 300 pictures with the kids,” said Principal Kelly. “You could hear a pin drop when he was talking. Who he is, really resonated with the students. It was a proud moment as a principal to see how our kids reacted. I’m extremely proud of who we are.” Afterwards, students spoke with teachers and their principal to talk about their amazing experience.
When reflecting on the LeGrand’s visit and its impact, Principal Kelly went on to say that the takeaway was, “Just how inspiring somebody in the face of those odds is. He refuses to give up. He is using what some people would see as debilitating and turning it into something that is inspiring others. It is truly amazing how inspiring he is. The kids were blown away by his inner strength and willingness to do good in face of these challenges. It was a gift, and we are really lucky to have him.”
According to his website, teamlegrand.org, LeGrand formed the charity Team LeGrand of the Christopher Reeve Foundation in 2013. Donations go toward research for paralysis and improving quality of life for those with spinal cord injuries.