LAYTON -- Already a graduate from the school of hard knocks, 27-year-old Kirk Green, who is a quadriplegic, expanded his education by capturing a bachelor of science degree in business/accounting from the University of Phoenix in Salt Lake City.
The commencement exercise was held Saturday morning at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.
Prior to the ceremony, Green was planning to wheel himself across the stage to receive his diploma.
It would have seemed appropriate to Green to have his wife, Jessi, push him, as she has pushed him -- both literally and figuratively -- through school.
"Being in a wheelchair added some challenges, but everything turned out good," said Green, the first of his family to graduate from college.
He said he was not sure he would have achieved the accomplishment, if not for the 2004 spinal cord injury which initially left him paralyzed from the chest down.
"I don't think I would have ever graduated from college had I not gotten hurt. I liked school enough, but I don't know that I loved it," he said.
"I wanted to work outside, or work with my hands," said Kirk, who was studying to be a plumber when he was injured.
That accident turned him from using his brawn to using his brain. Jessi attended many of his classes with him, taking notes, typing papers and making sure he arrived on time.
"(Jessi) should feel proud herself," Kirk said.
But Jessi, who wants to attend college someday to become a nurse, is both proud of and emotional about what her husband has accomplished.
"(Kirk is) a fighter, man," said Jessi. "I knew he would always get here."
Kirk's mother, Carri Green, is equally proud of her son. But she wouldn't have expected any less from him. She said, as her oldest child, Kirk was always feisty in his younger years, to the point of being in trouble at school.
It has been that sheer determination that has gotten Kirk through this, Carri Green said.
"He could have just laid down and stopped. He was just determined," she added.
A snowmobile accident in the Kamas woodlands Dec. 18, 2004, left Kirk paralyzed from the chest down.
The crash, damaging Kirk's spinal cord and breaking two vertebrae in his neck, occurred about five months after he returned home from a two-year mission in Mexico for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In an effort to gain some mobility in his arms and hands, Kirk made headlines in January 2007 by traveling to Shenzhen, China, at his parent's expense, to undergo a stem cell transplant procedure.
The five-week procedure included the use of stem cells from newborns' discarded umbilical cords being injected into Kirk's spinal cord. The procedure did not involve the controversial use of stem cells derived from an embryo.
But despite that, Kirk did hear from a few critics.
Kirk said the treatment did not accomplish what he had hoped it would -- to allow him to use his legs -- but he believes the procedure in China was worthwhile, because combined with physical therapy it has strengthened his back and abdominal muscles.
Upon his return home, Kirk, an investment consultant with Wells Fargo Advisors in Salt Lake City, said he has made every effort to better his quality of life through education.
He now hopes to pursue a master's degree in accounting to become a CPA.
The university professors who have had Kirk in class are confident, based on what they have seen, that he will achieve whatever he sets his mind to do.
"(Kirk) is a learner. Whatever he applies himself to in life, he is going to be successful," said Kai Hintze, University of Phoenix adjunct business professor, who had Kirk in two of his classes.
In the business management courses were individual assignments and team learning assignments, Hintze said, with Kirk always being sought after by other students as a team member because he was so engaged and determined to learn.
Jessi helped him to and from class and with his materials, because he has limited strength and flexibility in his hands, Hintze said. But Kirk did the learning on his own.
"You don't see him as a person with a handicap. You kind of stop looking at him as to what he has to overcome, because he has kind of figured that out," Hintze said.
Kirk said when he was injured he never thought he would be able to marry, get a job, or anything like that.
"You just kind of decide that you can overcome the challenges," said Kirk, who recalls that shortly after his accident, while he lay in the University of Utah Medical Center hospital bed, his father told him he wasn't going to be able to eat the whole elephant at one time.
"The light does always shine again if you look for it. Look for the good and make that your motivation," said Kirk, who provides motivational talks for school and church groups.
Kirk said he still has bad days.
Then he added:
"There is nothing wrong with having bad days, as long as they don't become bad weeks and bad months."