The outgoing president of St. Francis Xavier University is opening up about his experience as a stroke patient and the challenges of rehabilitation.

Sean Riley delivered a speech Tuesday night to the Nova Scotia Aphasia Association. It’s a group trying to increase public awareness of adult aphasia and other language disorders that affect people after a stroke.

Riley suffered a stroke two years ago and many of the people in the audience were stroke patients currently being rehabilitated.

Riley returned to campus just months after his stroke and had to go through intense speech therapy. He said he didn't realize how stress would affect his ability to communicate.

“Stress is more important to you if you had a stroke or if you've had a brain injury,” he explained. “You can't respond because your communication is very limited. Your brain is working but you're under incredible stress.”

Regaining his speech was the biggest part of his recovery, he said. 

"I was totally, totally, totally in denial for about a month. I couldn't speak, I couldn't walk, I couldn't write, I couldn't do anything,” he said.

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Sean Riley has resigned as president of StFX after 18 years. Dr. Kent MacDonald becomes president August 1, 2014. (CBC)

"You also have to challenge yourself day, after day, after day. You have many periods in time where you are just feeling like you just can't keep going."

Many people in the crowd said they were inspired by his story.

Kathy Williams had a stroke last month, and said Riley's address confirms to her that she should never give up.

"Listening to him, I mean there is a hope, never give up,” she said. “They told me I couldn't move my arm and today I can now move my arm laterally across the floor and I can walk."

Riley has resigned as president of StFX after 18 years. Dr. Kent MacDonald becomes president August 1, 2014.