When Josh Speidel rose to his feet to accept his diploma, the crowd rose with him during Columbus North High School’s graduation ceremony Saturday.

“For him to be able to walk across the stage, stand up and accept his diploma, it’s a miracle,” senior Michael Behling said.

Amidst cheers from the crowd, Speidel was wheeled into North’s gymnasium with the rest of his class, then was moved to the front of the room to wait to receive his diploma.

Behling, who is a friend of Speidel’s, said his classmates always admired Speidel, even before his traumatic injuries.

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Speidel, a star on the boys basketball team who has a scholarship to play for the University of Vermont, was seriously injured in a two-car accident four months ago.

“Even before the accident, you knew who Josh Speidel is,” Behling said. “He’s a basketball player at Columbus North, he’s a nice guy. You know who he is.”

So when the packed gymnasium erupted in a standing ovation that lasted a full 45 seconds, Behling wasn’t surprised.

“For everyone to stand up and give him that standing ovation, it sent chills down my back,” Behling said. “Just seeing him up there, it was crazy.”

Behling said he was impressed with how quickly his class came together to support their friend after Speidel’s accident. He said that’s what he’ll remember most about the class with which he graduated.

“This whole community became #JoshStrong in a matter of days, and it just took off,” Behling said. “I’m #JoshStrong, for sure.”

North Principal David Clark said he also admired the class of 2015’s desire to band together in support of their peer.

“It’s about a class at this point,” Clark said.

But Behling said being a Bull Dog doesn’t stop with graduation, especially when it comes to the class’ support of Speidel. He said he and his peers won’t give up on the star basketball player until he’s reached the goals he started the year with.

“(#JoshStrong) just means get better,” Behling said. “Let him know that we’re here for him, let him know that everyone in this community is pushing for him to get better and to get to Vermont.”

By the numbers

Number of graduates

Columbus North: 459

Columbus East: 338

Columbus Signature Academy – New Tech: 82

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.