Graduation ceremonies are common this time of year and many a proud parent is thrilled to hear their child’s name called during commencement ceremonies. Heard at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign last month was “Bridget Evans and Hero Evans, her service dog.” Amidst thunderous applause, Bridget and Hero strode the stage to receive their diploma.
And yes, Bridget credits Hero with her scholastic success. “He’s been with me through all my classes,” said Evans to TODAY.com. “He deserved a cap and gown as much as I did.” Hero is a 6-year-old chocolate lab who goes everywhere with Bridget. He pulls her wheelchair up ramps, takes her to doctor appointments and helps her with homework…well, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea!
Born with spina bifida, Bridget uses a combination of braces, crutches and a wheelchair for mobility. Her now retired service dog, Coal, accompanied Bridget to her undergraduate commencement, wearing a cap. He is now living with her parents.
Hero helped Bridget navigate the campus during her graduate studies. “I couldn’t have done it without him [Hero]” Bridget told me in a phone interview. This time around, Bridget wanted Hero to have the full cap and gown. “When someone asked me if it was okay to take a photo of us I didn’t know it would end up on Reddit.” With so many comments, Bridget added her own photos to the link.
Bridget’s other activities include founding the volunteer organization Illini Service Dog Program. “I saw college students as an untapped resource for training service dogs,” Bridget told me. The program began only two short years ago and has trained five dogs. The service dogs are given to disabled people free of charge. “I saw the need,” said Bridget, because trained service dogs are a laborious and expensive undertaking with often long waiting lists for people to be paired with a dog trained specifically for their needs.
Graduating with a Masters degree in Community Health and Hospital Administration, Bridget is now joining the job search melee. Having endured 37 operations in her 24 years, Bridget is very familiar with hospitals. I think she will bring a very practical perspective to hospital administration.
Kudos to Bridget and Hero. Their story goes to show what a little determination can do.
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All photos courtesy of Bridget Evans
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