“This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.”
A young woman and her service dog have earned instant fame after the pair arrived in matching caps and gowns to the graduation ceremony of the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign on Sunday.
An attendee of the ceremony snapped a photo of Bridget Evans and her service dog, Hero, both wearing graduation caps and gowns just after walking the stage, and posted it to Reddit.com saying, “One of the graduates today had her service dog with her who was also in a cap and gown :)” The photo immediately went viral.
Bridget joined the thread a day later, sharing photos of herself with Hero and answering questions from her instant fans.
“Hi! That’s me with my service dog, Hero! ,” she wrote along with this Imgur photo.
She explained, “Hero knows over forty commands to assist me! He loves to retrieve objects for my 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!”
“He’s been with me through all my classes,” Evans, 24, told TODAY.com. “He deserved a cap and gown as much as I did.”
Evans graduated with a Master’s degree in community health and hospital administration. Born with spina bifida, a spine-related birth defect that impairs her mobility, the hospital is a place she’s come to know all too well throughout the 37 surgeries she’s endured.
But Evans’ dedication to health and helping others goes much further than earning her degree. Evans founded Illini Service Dogs in 2010, a program that allows students to train service dogs from puppyhood until their ready to be placed in homes. After the dogs are trained, they are placed with someone with a disability free of charge. Evans’ program, funded solely by public donations, placed 3 dogs this month alone. Evans has trained over 20 service dogs herself.
“We can read each other’s minds,” Evans told TODAY. “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.”