CHICAGO (CBS) — Two Chicago men who suffered spinal cord injuries when they were shot have received a new lease on life in more ways than one, after the AbilityLab rehabilitation hospital helped them get their GEDs.

Leo Leyva, 26, was shot when he was 18, and left paralyzed from the waist down. He’s been through a lot of struggles getting accustomed to life in a wheelchair but he said he’s looking forward now. Leyva said there were times afterward when he wanted to give up.

“What made me realize that I can’t give up, it was the will of my mother; how she was struggling, you know, feeling sad about my situation. So I just hate the fact that everybody felt bad for me,” he said.

Leyva and Charles Winters were the first two graduates of a new GED program at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab – formerly the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

“This is an incredibly proud day. It’s a proud day for your family, your friends, our staff,” said AbilityLab chief operating officer Peggy Kirk.

Both graduates were beaming as they received their diplomas, surrounded by family.

“It’s been a long journey. It’s a great day. I’m happy to be here. I’m happy that I fought the long journey, and here we are,” Leyva said.

Leyva said he’s proud of his accomplishments so far, physically, emotionally, and educationally. He’s now hoping to become a pharmacist.