When Assistant Principal Donald K. White called out the name of Milton Chung Lee on the roster of the Howard High School Class of 1991 Wednesday night, applause burst across the crowded auditorium.
Lee's259 classmates and many members of the audience rose in standing ovation as the 18-year-old made his way across the stage on crutches to receive his diploma from school board Vice Chairman Dana F. Hanna.
"I felt real proud," said boys lacrosse coach Dan Ross, who has worked with the All-County goalie throughout Lee's high school career."I told him I wanted to see him walk across the stage."
Two things were remarkable about Lee's graduation: He was alive, and he was able to walk part of the way across the stage.
On April 27, Lee was riding in a car driven by his 16-year-old friend, Mark Grinspoon, a sophomore at Howard High.
According to county police, the car slid out of control on wet pavement, crossed the center line and collided with a car driven by Robert Shaughness, 49, of Columbia.
Lee and Mark were taken to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
Lee underwent seven hours of surgery to repair a broken pelvis, femur and jaw, suffered a life-threatening postoperative fever and spent 11 days in the intensive care unit.
Lee is still fighting his way back step by step, although his recovery has been faster than doctors predicted.
The first step was to beat the fever and recover sufficiently to be moved to another floor of the hospital. Then he began physical therapy on his legs.
He said the medical staff at the trauma center initially told him to forget about playing lacrosse again, "but they saw how fast I was coming, and the doctors were, like, 'You can do whatever you want.' "
Lee was expected to remain in the hospitalfor six months, but when he told the doctors and nurses he was scheduled to graduate June 5, "they said, 'We've got to get you back by then.' So they set that goal for me," he said.
He's not home free. His jaw is still wired shut, although the wires are scheduled to be removed in two weeks.
He still tires easily and sometimes must use awheelchair.
He will continue physical therapy two or three times a week this summer and must return to the hospital for operations to remove a metal rod in his femur and repair his ruptured bladder. But the important thing is that he made it.
"It's great that he recovered so fast and came back here," said Stephanie Niehenke, a sophomorefrom Elkridge and one of Milton's friends. "Having his friends there, I think, really helped."
Lee "really wanted to get out of the hospital," added a friend, Jennifer O'Carroll, a junior from Elkridge.
Reginald Gaither, a defenseman on the lacrosse team, recalled Lee's friends gathering at Stephanie's house the night of the accident.
The students called area hospitals to try to find their friend. When his name didn't appear on patient rosters, they were afraid he had died.
"One of my brother's friends had died last year," Gaither said. "Since then, I haven't cried about anyone. I just didn't want to lose another friend."
Lee's friends were unable to locate him thatnight because he had not been carrying identification and it took time to establish his identity.
Lee said he doesn't remember anything about the accident.
During the long weeks in the hospital, he thought about why he was there. He thought about what it had been like to be able to walk and "how good it was to eat, before."
Lee was not allowed visitors for the first week of his hospital stay.
Aftervisitors were permitted, Ross organized an alternating schedule for the 24 members of the lacrosse team so that three
or four could visit nearly every night.
The boys took the county championship trophy to the hospital to show Lee, Ross said.
Despite missing the last four games of the season, Lee made The Howard County Sun first-teamAll-County goalie.
He was also chosen All-County goalie by the high school lacrosse coaches.
When Lee's friends heard he was cominghome last week, they descended on Martha Holshue's art classroom to create a huge "Welcome Back, Milton" banner.
"I don't think there's any question how the kids feel about him," said Holshue, who chairsthe art department.
Ross agreed that Lee is very popular with hisclassmates. "His intensity on the field commanded the respect of theother students," Ross said.
A lacrosse team has three attackmen, three midfielders and three defensemen, but only one goalie, and the goalie can be the most important member of the team, Ross pointed out.
The Howard Lions, 10-0 before Lee was injured, finished the season as county champions with a 12-2 record.
This fall, Lee plans toenter University of Maryland Baltimore County, and he wants to play on the lacrosse team.