It's not every day a college student is greeted by the school's president and cheers from fellow classmates, especially, when a student walks in to drop out for the semester.
However, that was the welcome 21-year-old Derek Jay Madrigal received when he stepped foot inside Brookhaven College in Dallas last month.
The last time he had been there was Just before school let out for Spring Break.
So why such a warm welcome? It's because Derek has become sort of a hometown hero. He even has hundreds of cards written by elementary school children in the Dallas area to prove it.
"You are a hero to me and it's amazing how you got stabbed nine times, and you are super brave and strong," wrote one student.
Derek's older brother's, Blake and Rick, certainly agree that their little brother is a hero.
"There's no doubt in my mind," Rick said, "there's a lot of people that would not put themselves in harm TMs way."
"It's just like American soldiers out there," Blake added. "They are putting everything they have out on the line for us every day and now we have someone that does it on the outside - (Derek) earned his stripes - that's what he did. He earned his stripes."
His stripes, or rather his scars, which are evident throughout his body.
However, earning the "hero" title, almost cost Derek his life.
"It's just hard to believe that anybody would try to hurt him like this," Derek's Mother Marka Madrigal said. "To just kill him! Where they stabbed him was like they were trying to paralyze him first, and then get his lungs, and then his heart."
It's hard to believe a smiling, bright-eyed young man like Derek is the same person at the center of a brutal beating and stabbing that happened on South Padre Island, during Spring Break Texas week.
It was all caught on video.
Caught On Tape
"I remember just getting hit, but I didn TMt know they were stabbing me or hitting me with coolers," Derek said. "I guess I just blacked out."
Derek said the vicious attack turned his life upside down.
He was stabbed a total of nine times: once in the back of the neck, once near his right eye, in the arm and several times in the chest - one of those stabs punctured his right lung.
He's had a tough recovery and still has a-ways to go before things are back to normal.
Walking around Brookhaven College was a no brainer for Derek, but following the attack he's fallen so far behind, he was forced to drop the semester. But the Homecoming was far from somber. Adriana Cantu
"He's just a really good guy and he doesn't deserve this," a teary-eyed Adriana Cantu said after seeing Derek back on campus. "But I agree in him standing up for something that isn't right."
Thom Chesney, the college president, said they hope to help Derek get back to his studies as soon as he's ready.
After dropping his classes for the semester, Derek took Action 4 around campus as he visited with teachers and fellow classmates.
He showed Action 4 news his favorite spot in the entire campus - the gym.
Then Derek headed home where he has spent much of his time during his gradual recovery.
His mother said she now classifies her family's life as before the attack and after the attack.
"I think we love a little harder, love a little longer, care about each other a little bit more than we did before," Marka said.
Derek said he wasn't even planning on taking a Spring Break vacation because he wanted to save money, but his friends insisted, so he made the last minute decision to make the trip south.
"It's always been a lot of fun when we go here so why not," Derek said.
The first couple of days on the sunny beaches of SPI, were all fun and games. Derek even celebrated his 21st birthday on March 14th.
"We woke up, and had to go to the liquor store right away nd they (asked me for my I'd)," Derek said jokingly. "It kind of (made) me feel young again."
Derek said life on the beach was good - up until March 17th, the day of the attack.
After having a couple drinks at the hotel, Derek said he went down to Coca Cola Beach.
It's the Island's "place to be" during Spring Break, since it draws thousands of bikini-clad college students on any given day.
Derek said he was hanging out with a group of about 20 college students under a tent set up on Coca Cola Beach.
"I was hanging out just kind of drinking a little bit, kind of standing off to the side," Derek said, "and I saw these guys all lined up they're all talking (smack), so I kind of stepped in."
Derek said he asked the group of men, who disrespected two of the girls he was hanging out with, to leave their tent.
"They were just looking for trouble," Derek said. "You (go) to Padre to have fun, you don TMt (go) to try to fight somebody.
Derek stepped in for the girls, and things quickly took an unexpected turn.
"She gets hit, then I get hit, and then I go after the guy that hits me," Derek said. "And I hit him, I put him on the ground and I was on top of him, and all his buddies came and helped. And that's all I really remember. I remember covering my head, and saying, 'where's everybody that's supposed to be helping me?'"
Blake and Rick said it was heartbreaking to know they weren't there to help defend their little brother. "I's real hard to hear something happened to a sibling," Rick said. "It was real hard for me to express my feelings without being angry."
Derek's father considers the attack on his baby boy inhumane.
"It was real hard for me to make sense of how some negative aspects and people in our society can cause that much harm," Frank Madrigal said.
Concious During Beating
Derek said he was conscious through the beating.
"I was conscious through (them) taking me in the ambulance, (in the) helicopter while they're operating on my side cutting me open all that stuff," Derek said. "(I asked them to) numb me a little bit. And they numbed me. To tell you the truth, I don TMt really remember too much pain."
Derek was rushed to Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen.
His parents were shocked when they received the call about their son being brutally beaten and stabbed on the Island.
Their first thought was that it was a mistake.
But indeed, it was their beloved "DJ" that found himself in and out of surgeries battling for his life.
Derek said when he woke up in a hospital bed, he started to cry.
"I was kind of crying because I knew I couldn TMt pay for this I couldn't pay for the hospital," Derek said. "I was like, 'I need to get out of here, I need to get out,' because I couldn TMt pay for it but I couldn't have left."I called my dad I said I was sorry because I knew we couldn't pay for it - it was tough on me because it was my fault we were going to have to pay for it," Derek said.
Derek was hospitalized for about a week in Harlingen, his parents rushed to be by his side.
Derek tells Action 4 News, it was the unconditional support from his family, the get well cards and wishes, gifts, picture posters made by friends, and prayers that played a vital role in his recovery - mentally, emotionally and physically.
Nearly two months later, he still cannot move his left hand and it still hurts to even turn in his bed, he said.
Since the attack, he's also lost 30 pounds but has been drinking protein shakes to help him regain his strength.
"I believe that everything happens for a reason, I believe that I was on that beach for a reason - to help that girl," Derek said. "It wasn't my time to go, I wasn't ready to die - it wasn TMt my time."