Many students received their well-deserved diplomas at the University of Illinois commencement this spring, but a Labrador Retriever named Hero was certainly the vale-dog-torian at the U of I College of Applied Health Sciences graduation ceremony last Saturday.
Orland Park, Illinois native Bridget Evans lives with a condition called Spina bifida and uses a wheelchair to get around. Evans’s loyal service dog, Hero, accompanied her to the U of I, walking by her side as she attended and excelled at her college classes. It seemed only right that Hero should again walk by Evans’s side as the College of Applied Health Sciences student accepted her Masters degree.
Grateful for the love and support of her service dog, Evans dressed Hero in a blue cap and gown to match her own in honor of their journey and the special graduation day they would share together.
Touching photos of Evans and Hero have made their way from Imgur to the front page of the Internet, Reddit, and have taken the web by storm. Reddit user tcjones54 posted a photo four days ago of Evans and Hero as they made their way to the graduation stage.
“The girl and the dog received the loudest applause hands down. Very adorable,” tcjones54 wrote.
Response to the photo was overwhelmingly positive, one commenter summing it up perfectly: “This picture is everything that is right in the world.”
An excited Evans saw the Reddit photo and couldn’t believe her eyes. “Hi! That’s me with my service dog, Hero!” she responded, posting her Imgur photo. “This is my service dog, Hero, after we graduation with our Master’s degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,” Evans wrote in a caption.
“Hero knows over forty commands to assist me!” Evans explains in a later Reddit post. “He loves to retrieve objects for [me] like envelopes, pens, my crutches, etc. He also turns off the lights, opens doors, and he pulls me in my wheelchair up ramps!”
“I couldn’t have gone to college without him,” she added of her hero, Hero.
Evans knows firsthand how a service dog can change a person’s life. In addition to having a service dog of her own, Evans is also an experienced trainer with the Mid-America Service Dogs Foundation, and she decided to form the Illini Service Dog Program in 2010 as a way of giving back. A campus-based service dog training program, Evans’s organization was the first of its kind, and is sure to continue its great work long after her graduation from the central Illinois school.