Caps and gowns are a common sight this time of year, but attendees at a recent commencement were surprised when a dog in a cap and gown of its own walked alongside a graduate in a wheelchair.
The 6-year-old chocolate Labrador escorted Bridget Evans at the convocation ceremony of the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign on May 11. They wore matching caps and gowns, and a photo that an attendee snapped of the pair went viral after it was posted on Reddit.
"The girl and the dog received the loudest applause hands down. Very adorable," the user wrote.
Evans later identified herself as the girl in the photo and shared her story.
Born with spina bifida, a spinal birth defect that has required her to have 37 surgeries, Evans gets around in a wheelchair. But the 24-year-old’s life is made a little easier with the help of her service dog, Hero.
Hero knows more than 40 commands and assists Evans by performing a variety of tasks, including pulling her wheelchair up ramps, picking up dropped items and turning off lights.
“We can read each other’s minds,” Evans told the "Today" show. “We’re so attuned to each other. He’s my best friend, roommate, classmate and like my sibling. I’m so grateful that I got to celebrate my day with Hero by my side and my family in the audience.”
Evans says that Hero attended all of her classes and helped her every step of the way. Therefore, they both earned their master’s degrees.
“He deserved a cap and gown as much as I did,” she said.
Evans is the founder of Illini Service Dogs, an organization at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that allows students to train service dogs. Dogs are brought in as puppies and trained to assist people with disabilities. Once they’ve completed the program, the dogs are placed with disabled people, free of charge.
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