March 26 marked my sixth graduation at Guide Dogs for the Blind. It was the first time that rain had driven a graduation ceremony indoors for me, but otherwise, little has changed.
Everyone was hyper in the morning. We had our usual class meeting after breakfast and a round of “Simon Says” to lend some entertainment to the obedience sequence with the dogs. “Simon Says have your dog sit” meant, of course, to command your dog to sit. Just plain “Have your dog sit” meant that you should do nothing. Flo was perfect, and I managed to pay attention until almost the end. I was booted out at last, not for failing to heed or not heed a command, but because I had made a long leash when no one had told me to do that. It was fun and enabled dogs and humans alike to get focused.
An early lunch, then get dressed for the graduation and await the meeting of puppy raisers. Flo was “co-raised” by two families. The Thompsons-mom Catherine, dad Chad, and daughters Brooke, age 13, and Madeline, age 10, and the Corsons, mom Joy and college-age daughters Kayla and Shiloh. Everyone except Chad, plus an exchange student from Austria, Hannah, came to see Flo graduate. It was wonderful seeing them all, hearing tales of Flo’s puppyhood, and seeing firsthand how much all of these people have loved my wonderful spunky new dog.
Leo, the apprentice instructor with our class who taught Flo all her guide work, has a degree in fashion design. Flo and another dog in our class, Cancun, were Leo’s first completed works of canine art. So she made them special collars! Flo’s is gorgeous – red bandana-ish fabric with a lovely and prominent flower. A professional bit of style for a wiggling princess!
At graduation, as our names our called, we come forward and are presented our dogs by the raisers. (Only Joy and Brooke came forward in the ceremony.) The graduate says a few words, followed by the puppy raiser. Despite my resolve to the contrary, the emotion of others got to me. I had written a brief speech, held on braille note cards in my hand, but neglected it, and was completely choked up at one point. Embarrassing but there it was. Morgan Watkins, my friend and current CEO, was disappointed that I hadn’t said I’d “go with the Flo.” The writer in me wanted new phrasing, I guess. At any rate, I was particularly impressed by Brooke who, at 13, was one of the most articulate and poised speakers among the lot of us!
Never have I felt so loved after one of these ceremonies! First, all seven of my puppy-raising family came back to my room with me afterward. Susi Cherry was there and, of course, Morgan, and the surprise I’d known for only two days, my friends Michael and Kate.
After the raisers enjoyed final hugs with Flo and me and promises to stay in touch were exchanged, Michael and Kate took me out for FLo’s first restaurant visit and, for the humans in the bunch, a glass of wine! Just being with them was a perfect close to an emotional occasion. They are both so brilliant and present and warm. Love radiates from each of them – for one another and everyone lucky enough to be within the magic of their environment. I love being within the boundaries of that magic. Kate had made me a necklace – a beautiful white magnolia on green glass, smooth and clear and lovely.
As planned, I later went do dinner with those of my class still at the school – another restaurant outing for Flo – and it served as a calm and pleasant close to the GDB experience.