updated 05/16/2013 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/16/2013 AT 5:15 PM ET
“Pomp and Circumstance” – or pup and circumstance?
Recent University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign graduate Bridget Evans marked the milestone with a very special classmate by her side: her service dog, aptly named Hero.
“He’s been with me through all my classes,” the Master’s degree recipient, 24, who was born with spina bifida (a birth defect hindering mobility), tells Today. “He deserved a cap and gown as much as I did.”
The canine collegiate was welcomed by her fellow graduates, who stopped “every 5 feet” to take photos of the specially ordered cap and gown adorning her dog, she says. And the Internet took notice too: After she graduated last weekend, a photo of Evans alongside her 6-year-old chocolate lab went viral on Reddit.
“I don’t think I could’ve gone without him,” Evan says. Hero picks up pens for her, and when she goes to bed, he turns the light off. She never had to miss class because of her disorder.
“We can read each other’s minds,” she adds. “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.”