David Colangelo doesn't put it quite this way. But for many of his friends and classmates at Georgetown University Law School, his graduation Sunday will symbolize a triumph of the human spirit over overwhelming adversity.

Paralyzed totally and permanently from the neck down by a gunshot wound 2 1/2 years ago, Colangelo, 24, strggeld through a year of hospitalization and fought his way back to complete graduation requirements only a year behind his original class.

"I did it," said Colangelo, "with a lot of help from my friends."

"There may have been as many as 150 people who became involved with the struggle that Dave was going through," said the Rev. James B. Malley, chaplain at the law school.

"But the bottom line was Dave. Only he could do it and only he did it. I feel a sense of joy and of gratitude and of deep personal inspiration."

Colangelo's struggle began on the night of Sept. 26, 1974 at about the time he was beginning his second year of law school. A group of law students gathered at an apartment on Capitol Hill for an informal party.

"It was just a quiet kind of a thing," recalled Colangelo, "but then a couple of guys broke in. They acted like they were drugged up or something."

The gunmen lined up their victims against a wall and systematically began robbing them of their wallets and other valuables. Then, without apparent reason, one of the bandits fired a shot and the pair fled.

That random bullet struck Colangelo in the neck, severing his spinal cord and eliminating the possibility that he would ever again be able to move an arm or a leg. The man who fired the shot has never been apprehended.

"Within four days to a week after the shooting, I knew the extent of the paralysis and I knew enough about the way the spinal cord operates to know that it was irreversible." said Colangelo.

There followed seven weeks at D.C. General Hospital, then almost a year of intense therapy at Rusk Institute in New York.

"The doctors told me that even though I was Paralyzed, there was no reason why I couldn't continue law school and I decided right away that I would continue. it made may rehabilitation at Rusk a little more easy because I had a goal and an environment to return to. It was a question of whether I could adjust to the law school environment and whether I could physically function as a lawyers." Colangele said.

When he returned to Washington in the fall of 1975, Colangelo found he could adjust to the law school environment with the help of Father Malley and a corps of volunteer law students.

A system was devised in which students signed up for such chores as driving Colangelo between the Georgetown law center and his Arlington apartment, Wheeling him around in a whell chair, sometimes spending nights and weekends with him, and lifting him in and out of his wheelchair and in and out of bed.

Since he could not take notes in class himself, classmates shared notes with him just before his exams, which his professors agreed to let him take orally or on a tape recorder.

Throughout the two-year process, Colangelo says, he gained many close friends, including his girl friend, Dorothy Sanders, a law school classmate.

"She's been the most help of all. One of the happiest aspects of the last two years has been my relationship with her," Colangelo said.

Colangelo learned to do a few things for himself. Holding a stick between his teeth, he learned to move his head and use the stick to turn the pages of his law books.

"Most of the reading, once it is set up in front of me, I can do on my own," he said.

Colangelo's graduation is set for Sunday afternoon at Georgetown's main campus. His parents, grandparents, brothers and sister will be down from New York for the commencement exercises.

He's had good grades and is graduating near the top of his class. "Dave's a first-class lawyers," Father Malley said. "He's got a marvelous mind and he's done vey well."

But colangelo feels that "the challenge is still to come."

"Now that I'm graduating, what am I going to do with it?" he asked. "The whole thing is to see if I can function as a lawyer. I'll feel I've accomplished more when I start producing."

His plans are uncertain, Colangelo says, but he's starting to send out job applications and resumes to gevernment agencies and public-interest law firms.

"The thing I marvel at in him and in his family has been the amaizing freedom from bitterness," Father Malley told a reporter. "He has his problem, but he's determind to be an autonomous professional person."

"I've had a lot of really low moments and a lot of self doubt," said Colangelo. "But I have a lot of things that a lot of normal people . . . don't have - friends who are supportive, a girl I'm in love with.

"The physical handicap doesn't always color the way I look at life. It would be nice not to have the handicap, but I guess the ideal is to think about the things I can do. It doesn't make life perfect, but it still makes life."