One of my high school seniors had a guide dog all of her last year at high school. Graduation was approaching and I was doing all I could to keep my student independent, allow her dignity and grace to shine, and keep myself in the background as much as possible. The ceremony was to take place on the football field. We practiced the approximate walk but found the lack of real markers to be troublesome for the dog and the student. Together we determined that I needed to guide for the procession and to the stage. The student felt confident on the stage with her guide dog. The school rearranged the line order and I was added in as a guide in the student progression. I worked my schedule to be at the school the morning of graduation for the practice. Practice went well and we waiting for evening.
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Rain was forecast and the ceremony needed moving. Into the gym of a neighboring school the ceremony was moved and much tighter quarters. I met my student/dog team at the front of the building and provided guidance as well as verbal description of the building. The neighboring high school had quickly put up temporary banners to cover the opposition’s colors. The audience was crammed into double story bleachers and created such a noise I wanted her to be prepared. We moved into the cafeteria to get lined up and in caps and gowns. Part of the student body approached her and presented a miniature cap in the school colors for her guide dog. A local news reporter caught the action and the student/dog team were in the newspaper the next morning.
We were ready for the graduation. The march in went well; the student was purposefully placed at the end of an aisle so I could exit easily, I could sit on an end of the bleachers nearby, and the dog had a place to rest. When it was her row’s turn to go up, I jumped into place, guided to the stage stairs and then let them go. The dog was ready to lead to each person so I ran behind the stage to be ready on the other side of the stage. My student received two diplomas, one in braille and one in print, as she walked off the stage; this was a huge surprise for her when she got back to her seat. I am so glad to be a part of each and every student’s life. It is these moments I live for!
(when I find the newspaper photo I will update this post with it)