Joe Brown Joe Brown pressed a button, and slowly, his remote-control wheelchair began to raise his six-foot-four-inch frame to a standing position. As the motor whirred, a crowd of 1,000-plus was silent.

Brown loved his chair, and he especially enjoyed that feature. Living with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare and debilitating disease that progressively damages the nervous system, he wasn’t able to extend all of his lanky frame. That is, until he got the chair. Now, he could even see eye-to-eye with his father, Larry.

This process took about 60 seconds, but this was no ordinary minute. What he once dismissed as an impossible dream had come true. The public address system in the Dean E. Smith Center had just blared Brown’s full name. He was on the right side of the stage, preparing to graduate from UNC Chapel Hill’s prestigious Kenan-Flagler Business School.

When Brown decided that he was upright enough, he used a joystick to move himself across the stage. That’s when he realized that the whole crowd was now standing with him.

Brown - a 2016 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, rabid Tar Heels and Carolina Panthers fan and aspiring sports businessman - passed away last month at the age of 28. For the many who knew him, his friendship left an indelible mark.

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