It was no ordinary graduation. The spirits of the graduating seniors, especially Rachel-Lynn Inglis, were not broken as their caps and gowns steadily became soaked by a persistent rain.
As Rachel walked to the beat of Pomp and Circumstance onto the Lacey Township High School football field and towards her seat for graduation, tears came to her eyes. She saw her brother in the audience.
“I can’t believe my brother’s here after everything we’ve been through,” Rachel thought, waving at him throughout the ceremony.
The Inglis family celebrated more than Rachel’s graduation that day. They celebrated Daniel Inglis’ first homecoming. Daniel was paralyzed after a car accident on Christmas Eve and hadn’t been home since.
“Having him there made me feel so much better than I thought it was going to be,” Rachel said.
Not long after Daniel’s accident, Rachel asked her brother to promise he’d be there for her graduation. As recent as one week ago, she thought she would have the support of her parents, sister and grandparents but her brother would remain at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange.
But after her father, Daniel Inglis Sr., coordinated many logistics, Rachel found out Daniel would be present saying she was both excited and overwhelmed.
“He promised he would be there,” she said. “He fulfilled his promise to me. It’s like he’s back in town. He’s home.”
MONOC volunteered and donated their services to transport Daniel, a firefighter for the Lanoka Harbor Fire Company and a Union City police officer, by ambulance to the graduation.
“It’s amazing,” Daniel said as he laid on a stretcher in the ambulance, ventilator in use. He spoke softly and without ease. "It’s been six months. Coming home is nice.”
Daniel, now considered a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down, is working towards mobility, he said. After undergoing surgeries and months in Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, he was moved to Kessler to begin the rehabilitation process.
He has seen great progress since, he said, gaining shoulder and neck strength.
“We’re so proud he’s made such great progress already,” Daniel Inglis Sr. said. “The doctors are amazed.”
MONOC was just as impressed. As Daniel spoke, a beep continuously sounded throughout the ambulance. It was his ventilator.
“With his injury, he shouldn’t have the ability to control his diaphragm,” a MONOC representative explained.
Daniel said his homecoming was "really special."
“It’s something (Rachel) really wanted. It’s something I really wanted,” he said.
As Principal William Zylinski called Rachel’s name to receive her diploma, Daniel and his father cheered.
“It was great to have him back down here,” his sister Jessica Inglis said. “It was my sister’s biggest wish to have him here.”
While Daniel was in the ambulance, friends and family—some who hadn’t seen him since before the accident—checked in.
Daniel’s grandparents, sporting t-shirts that said faith, courage and strength in his honor, stood outside the door clapping in excitement. “I’m so glad you’re here. I love you,” his grandmother said.
Finding out Daniel had been in an accident brought tears to Tim Newton’s eyes. Newton and Daniel, both graduates of the class of 2006, had been friends throughout high school.
It was the first time Newton had seen Daniel since the accident. “He had the biggest smile on his face. He was always a really good friend and a really good person,” he said.
Since the accident, the community has held several fundraisers to assist the family financially.
“It’s amazing,” Daniel said. “Everyone has come out of the woodwork. People I don’t even know. It’s good to wake up or come back from therapy to cards wishing me well.”
After graduation, Daniel returned to Kessler where he will continue to undergo rehab.
“We want to steal him and bring him home now,” Daniel Inglis Sr. said.
But it won’t be much longer. Daniel may visit again for Rachel’s graduation from the Fire Academy on Thursday, June 21. He has a tentative date in the beginning of August to return home.
The family recently began renovations and construction to make the house accommodating to Daniel. While home, he’ll continue outpatient therapy three to four days a week.
Before returning home for good, Daniel also may visit on Sunday, July 15 for a benefit car show being held at Gille Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The show will feature 100 motorcycles and approximately 300 to 400 cars. Applebee’s will be providing food service and Ocean Trophies has donated trophies.
Registration for the event starts at 9 a.m. and is $10 per vehicle. Vendor space is $20. There will be music and a raffle gift auction.