BELLEVILLE, N.J. — The moment came as a surprise to everyone, even her parents, but when Tajia Rodriguez rose to her feet and walked across the graduation stage, the crowd erupted in tears and cheers.
"It was a dream come true," Rodriguez, 18, said. "The whole school got up. The whole crowd. It was just a precious moment."
She has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around. When Rodriguez was a baby, doctors told her parents that her disability would stop her from accomplishing much of anything.
But in third grade, she fought to get out of her special education classes.
She graduated from Belleville High School with honors on June 22, after battling through the same classes as all her peers.
"She’s a fighter. She conquered it all," Rodriguez's mother Marisol Tineo said.
Even the teen’s parents had no idea that she would walk the stage. Just a few weeks earlier, Rodriguez broke her toe while at prom.
"That’s why we were surprised when she got up and walked that stage," her father Victor Rodriguez said.
Her mother said it was "so beautiful."
"Everyone was screaming, cheering her on," Tineo said.
Rodriguez said her next goal is to open a center for children with disabilities. But for now, she's basking in the celebration of graduating from high school.
"I’m just blessed to know that I did it and I conquered all my fears," she said.