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A rising high school freshman has a lot to celebrate after graduating as valedictorian from his 8th grade class. Nine years ago, a gunshot left him paralyzed.

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In 2008, Mantrell Stevens was struck by a stray bullet fired by a gang in a Chicago neighborhood. On Tuesday, Stevens graduated at the top of his class at Wadsworth STEM Elementary School.

He credits his success to that tragedy.

“It’s a blessing, it’s not a curse,” the now 13-year-old told WBBM-TV. “Now I’m finally realizing it happened for a reason.”

The bullet struck his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Now, he’s getting ready to attend a private boarding school in Boston, where he received a full scholarship.

“You could always do what you put your mind to. If someone tells you you can’t do that, do it anyway, because you will never know if you don’t try,” said Stevens.