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Bigger than graduation; not even the pandemic can separate true friends

Hunter Shaffer and Hunter Schanlaub have been best friends since junior high, when Shaffer literally drove his wheelchair into Schanlaub.

ROCHESTER, Ind — Their glances are filled with mischief, and like any set of best friends they say the most to one another without uttering a word.

Hunter Shaffer and Hunter Schanlaub have been best friends since junior high, when Shaffer literally drove his wheelchair into Schanlaub. Shaffer has cerebal palsy and uses a wheelchair. He uses his eyes and a computer to communicate. 2020 marks the end of their time at Caston High School.

For the class of 2020, the pandemic meant missing out on a lot.

"Our regional basketball (tournament) gotten taken away, and that (had us) really bummed out. And when they told us we're not going back to school, my thought process was we're not going to get to walk," Schanlaub said.

These best friends have shared so many momentous moments, including a touchdown that went viral. 

RELATED: Bigger than football: Inspiring touchdown shows bond between best friends

Another was when Caston School Corporation put together an in-person graduation for their 2020 class.

"It really hit me like, 'Today we're going to walk across the stage,'" Schanlaub said. Shaffer said he never doubted that graduation was going to happen.

For these two best friends — who share a first name — sharing graduation together means everything. When 13News sat down with the Hunters to learn about their touchdown during that game that went viral, Shaffer mentioned he had stayed behind a year so that the two could graduate together. And on graduation day, Shaffer said he made the decision "because we're best friends."

Schanlaub said that decision "meant the world" to him.

The two also wanted to walk across the stage together.

"I was supposed to walk up there by myself originally. And I was like 'No, it's Hunter Schanlaub and Hunter Shaffer.' And I'm so glad that they allowed us to do it that way because that's what we wanted," Schanlaub said.

As Schanlaub guided Shaffer's wheelchair down a ramp, "I was really thinking don't trip going backwards with Hunter,' he said laughing.

"I don't know, I'm just so happy. And it's not a joy to be done it's just a joy that everybody got to witness our friendship over the years and to hear the impact we had on everybody is just overwhelming joy," Schanlaub said.

Credit: Shaffer and Schanlaub
Hunter Shaffer and Hunter Schanlaub at graduation.

Schanlaub said that since the story with 13News, they get stopped when they're in areas outside of their town and people tell them they're an inspiration.

Shaffer said being called an inspiration makes him feel "really special."

After members of the Caston class of 2020 received their diplomas, it was time to move their tassel from their right to their left. Schaunlab grabbed both his and Shaffer's and moved them at the same time. He said it didn’t occur to move them any other way.

Credit: WTHR
Hunter Schanlaub moving his and Hunter Shaffer's tassels to the left side.

Shaffer said that moment was his favorite moment of graduation.

It made him feel "really happy like so happy," Shaffer said.

The pandemic may have meant that school was forced to move to e-learning, but for the Hunters, their friendship was unaffected. They continued to talk about sports, cars, girls and grab food together. And Schanlaub said he's learned a lot about both life and himself through Shaffer.

"You're never alone. Family and friendship is way too often overlooked until you're literally taking someone with you, who wants to go everywhere with you. And to never stay mad. To always have a smile on your face," Schanlaub said.

Anyone who knows Shaffer will recognize his magnetic smile that easily lights up a room.

Credit: WTHR
Hunter Shaffer and Hunter Schanlaub after graduation.

For Schanlaub and Shaffer, graduation meant more than just an end to high school. It meant another memory and moment shared together to cherish.

"I don't have the words for what I felt when we walked across that stage," Schanlaub said. "It's something I’ve never felt before."

The class of 2020, like any graduating class, has a world of endless possibilities before them. They also face the uncertainty of what the pandemic might bring. One thing that's for certain: Shaffer and Schanlaub will continue to have a friendship that will endure, whatever the future may hold.

RELATED: Inspiring graduate achieves success after life-altering injury