Graduation From the Inside OutA perspective by Gary Boyd
There’s something about graduation. High school, college, even kindergarten has that special exciting feel of advancement. Along with the excitement is the uncertainty that comes from leaving something familiar you built with others. We each signed yearbooks noting how others played a role with past events and hoping our friendships will endure. My most recent graduation took place May 2014 from Canine Companions for Independence.
Similar to the thousands of graduation teams that came before Sorley and me, the achievement is memorable. Remember the first day, when the instructor informed us that each of these dogs knows over 40 commands? Wondering if a dog really has more intelligence then me? All of us students quickly decided that we had better join forces since these wonderful dogs were counting on us. Our class quickly came together beginning with a Cinco de Mayo taco dinner the first night. The dining hall became our gathering place to discuss the day’s lesson, talk about the dogs and become familiar with each other. The mornings were memorable. The early risers would arrive a bit after 5 a.m., usually Dena or myself with Donna close behind and an hour later Amanda, Ed and others would arrive. But never once did any of those mentioned ever make coffee because Jim had beat us all. Who knows when, but coffee was always ready for the team.
After our two weeks of being inside the classroom, leaving the training site became the next step. Similar to your high school graduation, we shared a mix of excitement and nervousness. Will I succeed on my own remembering what was taught or did Canine Companions secretly teach my dog how to call the office for help?
As classmates bonded during training, it only seemed appropriate to share how our lives were opening up with our dogs. Social media became a tool for our team. By creating a Facebook site for our class members, we shared experiences, photos and activities. We posted reminders about annual checkups or posted articles we had read from the local chapters’ newsletters. And when Tamara and Laura posted, “we need a reunion,” our class worked together for an Orlando reunion November 2015. Bluegreen Vacations made this possible and affordable by providing beautiful accommodations at The Fountains. As a corporation that believes in "Sharing Happiness," Bluegreen Vacations also makes a difference with their charitable programs. My class of May 2014 experienced this first hand. On our arrival, the front desk prepared a large room that easily allowed the eight families and service dogs to enjoy each other. With their support, our class enjoyed a wonderful three days reconnecting and we were able to participate in the Orlando DogFest!
Thinking back to an evening as our training was nearing its end, we again were all gathered in the dining hall. Enjoying new friends, we spoke of Canine Companions for Independence and how they give so much to graduates. With the support from staff and volunteers, lives have been re-opened. As we sat around a table, I remember a family member who made a comment. He mentioned how each graduate had been given a gift, a gift that pays dividends each and every day. Then he asked us as graduates, “What are you going to give?”
Giving takes many forms, all important. It could be sharing the name of Canine Companions for Independence to a curious stranger, providing the website with a story to bring a smile, participating in your local chapter, or other creative ideas. The families, the conversations and the dogs will forever stay with me. But staying just with me does not support that person or family that is struggling.
So I will ask, what are you going to give so others can experience the same joy?
Please share your stories and suggestions with us so others can be encouraged.