As the first higher education school in the country to accept on-campus dorm pets, Eckerd College held its fourth annual Pet Graduation Ceremony on May 12 with 51 special companions receiving custom certificates and stage recognition. It has been a model pet-friendly campus since 1973 and over 140 companion critters have graduated.
“Students were bringing their pets to the actual graduation ceremony and they still do,” said Robbyn Mitchell Hopewell, Director of Media and Public Relations for the college. “We wanted to honor pets as well” with a ceremony that is “strictly about them.”
Jordan Brooks, a senior in literature, and Sam Fisher, a senior in marine science, are on-campus roommates and like-minded when it comes to a choice in pets. After graduation, they plan to continue being roommates in St. Petersburg with their feathered friends: two 5-month-old ducks.
“It started as a joke at first,” Fisher said. “We watched YouTube videos” about how to care for them, “then found someone on Etsy who was willing to make custom diapers.”
You see, ducks don’t exactly use litter boxes.
Then there was the issue about names. Brooks chose Nora and Fisher selected Murphy. But each choice carries a risk: Gender is hard to identify in young ducks until either an egg is laid or a special curly feather called a drake appears on the top of the tail.
Said Brooks, two male ducks under one roof would mean certain domestic squabbles and the need for baby gates to keep harmony. What if the ducks fly over the gates?
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said.
In the meantime, Nora and Fisher have been campus favorites among students and staff as they enjoy regular swims in the salt water adjacent to the campus in southern Pinellas County. At the ceremony, a resounding cheer erupted when the ducks and their owners were called to the stage to receive their “degrees.” Their humans will graduate on May 22.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” said Matthew Hardy, a senior in environmental studies who has both a snake and a mouse.
“They see each other and they’re totally fine,” he said of the potential predator-prey relationship. “They do not eat together in person.”
His ball python snake is named Maximus and the fancy mouse is called Roquefort.
At Eckerd, Hardy’s pets were in good company. The graduation menagerie consisted of 22 dogs, 12 cats, five snakes, four guinea pigs, three rabbits, two ducks, one bearded dragon, one mouse and one turtle.
Like their human counterparts, the animal grads were organized in a procession line, but instead of being alphabetical order, animal instincts determined who would be next to whom.
Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students James Annarelli read each pet’s name as Eckerd College President Donald Eastman presented certificates and stood onstage to take a photo with each pet and the owner.
Refreshments were served to both people and pets.
Students living in on-campus housing may have one animal under 40 pounds or two small pets like fish, hamsters, gerbils amphibians, non-venomous reptiles under four-feet and small birds.
Upon observing several doggie grads, Hopewell said, “the 40-pound weight limit is flexible.”