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Alumna to give 2012 Commencement address

Sam Stryker | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Notre Dame alumna Haley Scott DeMaria, who made an inspirational comeback from critical injuries sustained in a 1992 bus accident involving the Irish swimming team, will deliver the 2012 Commencement address, University spokesman Dennis Brown told The Observer.

DeMaria will also receive an honorary degree at the May 20 ceremony, to take place in Notre Dame Stadium.

In a release, University President Fr. John Jenkins said he believes DeMaria’s address will provide an appropriate message for those graduating.

“The courage, perseverance and faith Haley has demonstrated over the past 20 years have been remarkable and are a shining example for us all,” he said. “She has spoken to scores of groups across the country of the many challenges she faced in recovering from injuries suffered in the accident, always with a focus on God’s grace and the love and support she received from her family, friends and Notre Dame.”

“I’m sure that her words will be as inspirational to our graduates as they have been to so many others.”

Former United States Secretary of Defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency Robert Gates delivered last year’s commencement address.

DeMaria suffered a broken back and was paralyzed after a team bus returning from a meet against Northwestern slid off the Indiana Toll Road during a snowstorm Jan. 24, 1992. Freshmen Meghan Beeler and Colleen Hipp died in the accident. Most of the other passengers on board suffered injuries, with DeMaria the most seriously hurt.

Doctors told DeMaria she likely would spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. A week after the accident, she regained feeling in her legs. DeMaria was standing and walking within a month.

DeMaria returned to take classes in the spring of 1992, and began swimming in the fall. On Oct. 29, 1993, she completed her comeback, swimming the 50-yard freestyle – and winning her heat.

DeMaria has said she is honored to share the story of her incredible comeback.

“It is moving, gratifying and inspiring to speak to people about my recovery,” she has said. “It is a gift to pass along hope.”

DeMaria has received several notable honors for her amazing comeback, including the Spirit of Notre Dame Award, Honda Award for Inspiration and Gene Autry Courage in Sport Award. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Women’s Leadership Conference in 1994 and a fellow of the Institute for International Sport. DeMaria is also the first vice president for the Notre Dame Monogram Club and will begin her two-year service as president starting in 2013.

DeMaria graduated in 1995, and now lives in Annapolis, Md., with her husband, 1995 alum Jamie DeMaria, and two sons.

She has shared her story in a book and has plans for a movie.

Contact Sam Stryker at sstryke1@nd.edu