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Princeton High School senior walks across stage despite debilitating condition for graduation

(Source: WABC) (Source: WABC)

PRINCETON, New Jersey (WABC/ABC) -- A high school graduate is walking across the stage to get his diploma Wednesday night.

What makes this so remarkable, is that the senior hasn't walked in years.

Derek has Ataxia Telangiectasia, a degenerative neurological disease.

Until age 12, he had been misdiagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, but he still competed in flag football and Taekwondo.

He's been in a wheelchair through high school, which brings us to his graduation day.

Derek DeGregorio was fiercely determined to take these steps.

Eyewitness News Reporter Michelle Charlesworth posted a video of him training for the big moment on social media. "If you want something never give up," Derek said.

Derek showed off walking at rehearsal for Princeton High School graduation.

Derek will walk to get his diploma in an iron-man type exoskeleton borrowed for the occasion.

He practiced with his brother Aaron, who is also graduating.

Derek is borrowing the exoskeleton to steady him and make impossible walking possible.

"It's weird to see him stand upright, we never see that!" said Steve DeGregorio, Derek's father.  

Derek's dad Steve is a football coach.

"He is the toughest individual I know," Steve said. "True grit is what he has, compassion and perseverance, that's what he has, that's Derek."

"We don't have the word 'no' in our vocabulary," said Nadia DeGregorio, Derek's mother. "Whatever you need to get done, you do what you need to get there."

So how does walking make him feel?

He says "tall" and also proud of himself.

"Because I can't do it normally," Derek said.

Of his parents, he said, "They are the best. They don't hold me back."

His parents would add, it would be impossible to hold him back.

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