GLENDALE, Calif. -- In a wheelchair is how students at Toll Middle School in Glendale have always seen 14-year-old Katarina Stanovich, but on her 8th grade graduation day, she did something she's never done before.
"I kind of wanted to fit in like everybody else," she said.
At age 4, Katarina was in a horrific car accident that severed her spine and left her paralyzed from the waist down.
"This was a tragedy truly. One day, she was in a ballet class and the next day, all of us, here we are, our whole life got turned upside down," said Katarina's mom, Natasha Milatovich.
Milatovich says Katarina has never felt sorry for herself. She's an honor student, community volunteer and wheelchair athlete.
On her graduation day, she hid special braces beneath her robe. It was all part of her big reveal.
In past graduations, Katarina had seen other kids in wheelchairs being lifted up onto the stage, but that was not how Katarina wanted to be remembered, so she made a deal with the principal.
"He'd get a ramp and then I'd go up," she said.
Katarina told her principal that about a year ago. Ever since, she's been strengthening her core and upper body. She even used a special bike, which sends electrical impulses to help build her leg muscles.
Hundreds of hours led up to the special moment at her graduation. With two of her friends, a walker and sheer determination, Katarina made propelling herself forward look effortless.
It was a moment her mom will never forget, and a moment people who had never met her were moved by.
"We wanted people to see her, be inspired by her and know that they can do anything," principal Dr. Matt Dalton said.
Katarina's message to her fellow graduates: "Don't let anything hold you back."
"You're on a self-journey, and you're just trying to discover how much you can do and who you are."
Katarina says she'd like to be in the medical profession, possibly a doctor or a veterinarian.
Milatovich says she's always inspired by her daughter's strength and perseverance.
Paralyzed student in Southern California walks across stage at graduation
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