Despite what had been a long, arduous journey, Larry E. Campbell Jr., 18, was beaming as he strode across a platform last night to collect his high school diploma from Wyncote Academy.
But his mother, Deborah Goode, who was seated in one of the front rows, sobbed openly. Her tears, she said, were of pride and gratitude.
Nineteen months earlier in Germantown, Larry had been shot seven times, but here he was, graduating on time, with honors, and planning to attend college to become a lawyer.
"This has been a long walk with obstacles and praying," Goode said yesterday. "He stuck it out. He kept his grades up. I'm just so proud of him."
Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who gave the commencement address at the ceremony at the Calvary Assembly of God church next to the private school on Washington Lane, met Larry before the ceremony and agreed it was unusual for anyone to survive being shot seven times.
Later, Larry presented Ramsey with a check for $500 the school had raised to donate to a fund for fallen officers. "He's a nice young man," Ramsey said.
And when the young man briefly addressed the students, staff and parents, it was clear his humor remained intact.
"After I got shot, I thought I would never walk again, but here I am: walking, running, and skipping like I never did before," said Larry, who stands 5-foot-11, weighs 320 pounds, and is built like an offensive lineman.
"I'll miss this whole school," he said. "I'd like to thank the staff, my family, and the students for helping me in my ups and downs - and my mom. Don't worry, Mom. Your baby boy is all grown up. I got it from here."
Wyncote Academy, just outside the city with 100 students in sixth through 12th grades, offers college-prep classes in a close-knit, nurturing environment for students who "would slip between the cracks" at a large, public high school, said Kirk J. Hittinger, the head of school.
Goode said she wanted her son out of their Germantown neighborhood, away from his longtime friends and in a positive environment where all the students were focused on college.
"Now it was time to buckle down," she said.
Her son thrived at Wyncote. He earned A's and B's. He found a spot on the basketball team and became the popular manager of the school store.
But one cool October night in 2007, everything nearly came to a tragic end a few blocks from his home.
Larry, who was then 16 and a high school junior, was walking home after basketball practice at the nearby Waterview Recreation Center with about six neighborhood friends. The group brushed against two young men in their 20s on the sidewalk at Haines and Magnolia Streets.
The pair cursed and told the teens to watch where they were going. Larry, who was at the head of the group and was wearing headphones, turned to see what was happening and to apologize for the inadvertent bump.
The pair produced guns. And as his panicked friends tried to flee, a powerful force spun Larry's large body around. The next thing he knew, Larry was facedown on the ground and one of the gunmen was firing at him.
None of his friends was hurt.
Goode was standing on the porch of her sister's house when her nephew ran to tell her that Larry had been shot.
"You just drop to your knees and start praying," she said.
City police were on the scene within moments because there had been a fatal shooting earlier that evening a few blocks away, but the two gunmen were never found.
Larry was rushed to Albert Einstein Medical Center. The emergency-room physicians working on him kept finding bullet wounds. The final tally was seven: He had been shot twice in the stomach, twice in the front of his right leg, twice in the back of his left leg, and once in the buttocks, all from either a .40-caliber and a .45-caliber handgun.
Miraculously, none of the bullets struck any vital organs or pierced any important arteries.
"I'm actually glad I'm the one that got hurt, because if it was somebody else that took that, they probably would have died," Larry said in an interview.
Meanwhile, Wyncote Academy was in shock.
"It's that phone call every principal dreads," Hittinger said. "You never expect anything like that to happen - especially to a kid like Larry. . . . He's the gentlest, nicest kid."
Teammates from the Wyncote Lions basketball squad visited during his weeklong stay in the hospital. Students and parents sent cards and letters.
When he returned to school near Thanksgiving 2007, the entire school welcomed him back with a surprise celebration. He was not able to walk up and down steps, and he had to sit on a pillow because of lingering, painful complications from the wound in his buttocks.
"When they told him he could not go up and down steps, he would work and work at it at home," his mother said. "He kept pushing and pushing. 'I'm going to do it. I can't let this hold me back.' "
He underwent four operations to remove three of the bullets and to remove pus from infections. Surgeons left the other four bullets in his body. The painful buttocks wound finally healed a few months ago.
"Despite all this," Hittinger marveled, "it didn't make him a bitter, angry kid. It kind of empowered him. . . . He wants to be a lawyer someday. If anybody can do it, Larry can. He's got the determination - that's for sure."