This year about 2,500 students just graduated from Idaho State University. Embracing the rite-of-passage of the newly-educated, most also participated in a commencement ceremony to receive their hard-earned diplomas. But unlike previous years, college graduates at Idaho State this spring were joined by a black and white pit bull who also walked the stage to accept a diploma.
The dog, Cletus, is a service dog and he walked the stage not for his own diploma, but that of his late owner, Josh Kelly, who passed away in February.
Kelly suffered from epilepsy and had been a part-time student at ISU for many years diligently working on his Bachelor of Science degree in Geoscience. The disease claimed his life before the commencement ceremony, so his father, Terrell Kelly and loyal canine, Cletus, stood in his stead at the May 10th graduation. The elder Kelly joked that Cletus went to all of the same classes his son did, so he probably deserves half that degree.
Unable to drive, Josh and his faithful companion would walk nearly two miles Monday through Friday, rain or shine, to catch a 6:30am bus to ISU. Occasionally on this journey from Idaho Falls to Pocatello, Josh would be suddenly overcome by a grand mal seizure. Cletus was always by his side ready to alert others of his owner’s urgent need for medical help.
In spite of the trials and tribulations required to not only get to school and back, but continue with his studies, Josh was very dedicated to his education. In an interview with the college newspaper Terrell recalled, “I thought it was really amazing how committed he was to his education despite everything he faced.” Josh became his hero.
“I think it is wonderful that the University is granting him a degree,” said Josh’s mother, Lynne Kelly. “During that last semester he was having a difficult time with his memory because of the seizures, which made it especially hard for math classes. He had brain surgery, nerve stimulations, and he was on medications, but nothing stopped the seizures. He continued to a have a grand mal every month, and would end up missing a couple of days of classes after each one.”
“He was taking calculus II for the third or fourth time around,” Lynne elaborated, “but was so excited that he was going to graduate, after passing a test early in the semester.”
Photo Credit – Idaho State University
Always friendly and positive, Josh made a lasting impression on the staff, faculty and students at ISU, so much so that Geosciences Department has decided to name the department’s kitchen after him and the undergraduate study room, Cletus’s Corner.
“What really struck me about Josh was that he was a very hard-working person and super reliable,” said Leif Tapanila, chair of the ISU geosciences department. “If you gave him a task he would get it done. He was a real stand-up guy. For a person with the challenges that were put before him, he always faced the day with a smile, a laugh and a joke, worked really hard at his studies and did well.”
On May 10th when Cletus and Terrell walked across the stage, the audience exploded in applause. After receiving his son’s diploma, he held it high in the air, looked to the heavens, and said, “This is for Josh.”
Next page – A Video of Cletus on Graduation Day.