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After 'miscommunication,' LeGrand to speak at commencement after all

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Eric LeGrand will speak at Rutgers University's 2014 commencement after all.
Eric LeGrand will speak at Rutgers University's 2014 commencement after all. - (NJBIZ file photo)

Eric LeGrand will speak at Rutgers University's upcoming commencement after all.

After a bizarre 48 hours in which LeGrand said he was asked to deliver the keynote speech — and then told the school was going “in another direction” — Rutgers on Tuesday chalked it up to a misunderstanding.

“Eric LeGrand will speak at our commencement and personally receive his degree from me as a representative of the class of 2014,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said in a statement issued early Tuesday afternoon. “It was never our intention that Eric would be the only speaker. We have resolved that miscommunication and are delighted to have him participate.”

The former Rutgers defensive tackle, who was paralyzed in an October 2010 game, is due to graduate this year after taking classes throughout his rehabilitation process, according to NJ.com. But plans for the May 18 commencement took a turn early this week after student protests led former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to back out of speaking.

LeGrand told NJ.com that Greg Jackson, Barchi’s chief of staff, called him Saturday night and asked if he would give the commencement speech. He was eager to do so and planned to formally accept the offer on Monday, after returning home from a fundraiser in Florida. But he received a call early that evening from Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann, who said, “I was pushing for you, but President Barchi decided to go in another direction for political reasons,” LeGrand told the website.

By that time it had been widely reported that former Gov. Tom Kean would replace Rice as commencement speaker.

“I just want an explanation,” LeGrand told NJ.com in a phone interview. “I wish somebody would have given me a call tonight and explained to me why. Then I can understand, but don't just leave me hanging.”

The news from LeGrand raised eyebrows for a school that has stumbled through controversies for more than a year, much of it from the scandal around former men’s basketball coach Mike Rice and the hiring of Hermann, who replaced Tim Pernetti. Rice was fired in April 2013 after the release of videos that showed him verbally and physically abusing players during practice, and Pernetti had resigned weeks earlier.

On Tuesday, Rutgers sought to clear up any confusion about the commencement program and LeGrand, who has used his accident to become an inspirational speaker and champion of spinal cord injury research.

“Eric holds a special place in the hearts of the Class of 2014 and the entire university community,” Barchi said. “We are thrilled that he will be joining us on stage to make this special occasion ever more memorable.”

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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