Ryan Williams is smiling, as he always seems to be, and cracking jokes as his wheelchair rolls into the Bovard Auditorium at USC.
He one of the more 100 students from USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering in red graduation caps and gowns waiting for the start of the PhD ceremony.
His father, Clay, and brother Keith help adjust his billowy robe, making sure it stays tucked into the sides of the wheelchair. Unable to shake hands when meeting a stranger, Williams raises his right arm and extends his partially clenched hand in greeting.
“It’s a fist bump,” he says, laughing. “It’s all I’ve got.”
As the event, known as a hooding ceremony, begins, Williams waits patiently until near the end, when it’s his turn to get in line for his big moment on stage. This is only his second visit to USC since the accident more than six years ago that left him mostly paralyzed from the neck down and nearly derailed his dreams of a career in undersea robotics research.