23-year-old Collin Smith grew up in Asheboro, North Carolina.
When he was a sophomore in high school, he was in a car accident that left him quadriplegic.
Ernest Greene, who is 72, attended the same church as Collin’s family, and though he’d never met Collin, he decided he wanted to help.
He offered to do whatever Collin needed, from taking him to school to helping him shave.
And when Collin began college, Ernest went too.
They came to StoryCorps to remember that time.
Click here for the transcript.
Ernest Greene (EG): Well I looked at your life and I roughly estimated that it would cost fifty thousand dollars a year for somebody to be with you twenty four hours a day, five days a week so that you could go to school. It sure wouldn't have been in the cards for me to have to pay that kind of money. I didn't figure it would be in the cards for you and your family. And so I offered to go to school with you.
Can you remember what your attitude was toward me that first year at college?
CS: I wanted to be just like any other college student and that's just not possible. I knew I needed help but at the same time I wanted to do my own thing like my friends.
EG: That first year you didn't hardly want me to open my mouth.
CS: Yeah, I got more comfortable and it was really cool in class sometimes the professor would ask you questions.
EG: And sometimes I was asleep and I didn't hear the question.
CS: Yeah, I'd have to nudge you and you were like, "What? What did they ask me?" But you've allowed me to do anything and everything.
Did you ever think, "What have I got myself in to, taking care of me?"
EG: Probably a few times. My day started at four-thirty in the morning. Sometimes it was fourteen, sixteen hour days and at that point I was getting very tired. I'd be ready to go home and you were…
CS: Ready to do something else, and…
EG: Do something else.
CS: Yeah, sometimes compromising isn't the easiest thing to do.
EG: Both of us are pretty strong willed. Aren't we?
CS: Yes we are.
Tell me about graduation day.
EG: Well I had already decided I wasn't going to let somebody else push you across the stage.
CS: So about the time they put me up the stage, the president of the college started talking about the way you went to school with me.
EG: And gave you your diploma...
CS: and gave me my diploma. I was ready to go and all of a sudden he's like, "Hold on." He ended up giving you an honorary degree.
EG: I don't' think I've been any more shocked in my life. I didn't think I had done anything more than any other person ought to do.
CS: We started together and we finished together. It was only fitting, because you were my hands and feet when I couldn't use mine. So it's more than just being a friend. You're like a father to me, a grandfather. And you became family.