"It was a wonderful, surreal moment and he was ecstatic," Jeff Wittrock said of his son Hunter

By Joelle Goldstein
May 29, 2020 04:58 PM

A high school senior with cerebral palsy made his graduation day one to remember when he surprised his classmates by walking across the stage to receive his diploma, despite being confined to a wheelchair for his entire life.

Hunter Wittrock was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after his birth and has never been able to walk on his own, but the Oklahoma teen refused to let that define him at his Kingfisher High School graduation ceremony, Good Morning America reported.

After months of extensive physical therapy, Hunter, 19, proudly walked across the stage by himself on May 16, shocking nearly everyone who knew him.

"No one could believe it; the crowd went crazy then silent as people wiped the tears away," Hunter's dad, Jeff Wittrock, recalled to the outlet. "It was a wonderful, surreal moment and he was ecstatic."

Hunter's determination to walk at his graduation ceremony began at the end of his junior year, Jeff explained to GMA.

"The wires were connecting that he was going to be on this big stage in front of thousands of people," he said. "He told me he wanted to walk the stage and make the most of the moment."

Hunter started working toward making it happen, working multiple times a week with physical therapists, who helped him build up muscle in his legs, according to GMA.

The teen started with smaller goals, such as standing for long periods of time, before he was able to walk 10 feet on his own, the outlet reported.

From there, he continued to increase the distance by five foot increments until early March, when he was able to successfully make the 150-foot walk across the graduation stage by himself, according to GMA.

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During his months-long training, Jeff said Hunter — who is a triplet — kept his progress a secret from everyone who knew him, aside from his family.

"He wanted to build the suspense up," the proud dad explained to GMA.

That suspenseful moment almost didn't happen. After the coronavirus pandemic began to hit the U.S., the Oklahoma Board of Education closed all in-person classes and extracurriculars across the state, leaving Hunter heartbroken.

"He was absolutely devastated," Jeff said. "He worked for 10 months just to walk across the stage and the rug was pulled out from underneath him. But he kept training in case things changed."

And as it turns out, Hunter's efforts paid off.

Just one day before his graduation, the governor of Oklahoma began the early phases of reopening the state, which allowed for the school to hold an in-person commencement as long as students and guests practiced social distancing, GMA reported.

On the big day, Hunter — wearing his navy cap and gown — walked across the stage by himself, with only minor help from the two aides behind him, officially accomplishing the goal he set out to complete months prior.

The emotional moment was not only special for Hunter, who will begin his "post-secondary education" in the fall, but also for his proud family.

"The smile on his face said it all," Jeff told GMA. "I was just so excited for him."