When Maria Paz Lopez-Benitez entered the Wellesley High School auditorium on Thursday, she moved confidently on crutches through a tunnel of teachers and applauded by friends and family. More than two months after hundreds of classmates secured diplomas at the traditional graduation ceremony, she was on the way to pick up hers at a special event.
Lopez-Benitez was severely injured in a car crash on the morning of June 3, when she and her friends were driving to the graduation rehearsal. The senior sustained a broken leg, along with other injuries, and was hospitalized for a month.
The hospital wasn’t all bleak, however. Lopez-Benitez said her friends made sure there was someone at her side at all times. They even made a spreadsheet so they knew who should be there and when.
Many were also there on Thursday, at a special ceremony that included speeches from WHS Principal Dr. Jamie Chisum, teachers, and several friends.
The cross country team co-captain was described by friends as “the strongest person I know,” and “incredible,” and “loud,” which elicited quite a few laughs. While a briefer event minus the reading of hundreds of graduate names, the ceremony included many of the usual graduation proceedings. Lopez-Benitez was called to the stage by the class president, received her diploma (and a hug) from Dr. Chisum. She threw her cap in the air after moving the tassel to the left side.
Lopez-Benitez will be taking a gap year, to, as she put it, “learn how to walk again.” After that, she’ll head to Pomona College in California, where she plans to study biology, in the hopes of later joining the medical field.
The new grad’s recovery hasn’t been completely straightforward. She had to return to the hospital several times due to infections related to her injuries, and she has yet to get the green light for physical therapy. That being said, Lopez-Benitez seemed in good spirits, and like at the hospital, she was surrounded by friends as she left the ceremony.