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Rutgers Invites Paralyzed Football Player To Speak At Commencement, Then Takes It Back [UPDATE]

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ERIC LEGRAND
Former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand looks up at the stands during ceremony where his jersey number 52 was retired at halftime of an NCAA college football game against Eastern Michigan in Piscataway,N.J., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. LeGrand became paralyzed while making a tackle in an October 2010 game. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Eric LeGrand got some great news on Saturday: Rutgers University, his alma mater, wanted him to give the commencement speech at the school's graduation ceremony later this month.

It was Greg Jackson, chief of staff for Rutgers President Robert Barchi, who called and offered LeGrand the gig, NJ.com reports. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had just backed out of giving the speech at the public New Jersey school amid protests from students and faculty.

LeGrand, a former Rutgers football player who was paralyzed from the neck down during a game in 2010, told NJ.com that he was incredibly excited about the opportunity.

"[Jackson] asked if I could do Rutgers a favor and give the commencement speech," LeGrand said. "I was like, 'Wow, thank you for offering.' [Jackson] goes, 'Yeah, absolutely. Talk it over with your family this weekend. Let's touch base again Monday.' I was all amped all weekend. I was like, 'This is perfect. I'm going to have to give a speech to everybody.'"

When LeGrand called back on Monday, he said Jackson gave him the impression that everything was a go. Later that day, however, LeGrand got another call, this time from Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann.

Hermann told him that he wouldn't be giving the speech after all. Barchi had selected former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean to give the speech instead. Legrand said Hermann told him that Barchi had "decided to go in another direction for political reasons."

LeGrand told the Asbury Park Press he was "very upset" by the decision. He reached out to Jackson a few times on Monday to for an explanation but said Jackson didn't return his calls.

LeGrand told the paper he was disappointed that he won't be able to share his experience with this year's graduates.

"I was just going to tell them my story, about the whole process,” LeGrand said. “Starting in 2005, being recruited by Rutgers and what it meant to me to play here and go to school here. And then the way everybody supported me through my injury, I was just going to give inspirational words about how they should attack life. All the things I’ve learned so far. All the [graduates], they're my age so I was going to try to [say] words they could remember, words that would inspire them to do great things in life.”

LeGrand, 23, earned his bachelor's degree in labor studies from Rutgers this past January.

UPDATE: According to the AP, Rutgers University announced Tuesday that LeGrand will be one of the commencement speakers at its May 16 graduation ceremony. President Barchi there had been a "miscommunication" with LeGrand about the speeches. LeGrand will be a speaker at the event, but not the keynote speaker. LeGrand confirmed Tuesday's development on his Facebook page:

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