CHICAGO (CBS) — Graduation Day meant something extra for Martrell Stevens.
Nine years ago, he was a victim of gun violence; on Tuesday, he graduated as the valedictorian of his 8th grade class at Wadsworth STEM Elementary School.
He’s not only smart, he’s also wise beyond his years, and he credits that to a tragedy in 2008.
Martrell was only 4 years old when he was left paralyzed, after he was struck by a stray bullet in gang crossfire in Englewood.
Graduating at the top of his 8th grade class nine years later is one of Martrell’s proudest achievements.
His journey hasn’t been easy, but the 13-year-old said he wouldn’t trade it.
“It’s a blessing, it’s not a curse,” Martrell said.
He acknowledged it took him a while to reach that kind of understanding.
“Now I’m finally realizing it happened for a reason,” he said.
The bullet that struck Martrell hit his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
“That kind of humbled me, because when it happened, I was just a kid, but now I look on it now and I’m glad it happened,” he said.
His mother, Lakeesha Rucker, said she’s not surprised at her son’s attitude.
“That’s something that Martrell always say; God don’t make mistakes,” she said.
When Martrell couldn’t play on the school basketball team, he joined a wheelchair league.
“He’s a bright kid, keep a smile on his face, always positive. He’s my motivation,” Rucker said.
Martrell continues to motivate others.
The valedictorian of his class explained how he did it.
“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,” he said.
Martrell will go to a private boarding school in Boston for high school. He received a full scholarship.
He said his decision to leave Chicago is partly due to all the violence here.