Pawsome! Grad’s companion dog gets surprise of his own at Commencement

Winston, the 3-year-old Labrador mix, has been beside Katie Emling for the past 18 months. So it was only natural that he’d accompany her – even walk across the stage with her – as she received her diploma at Commencement on Sunday.

But there was a special surprise in store for Katie and her faithful companion and partner. Hint: It wasn’t a bone.

Dressed in matching caps and gowns, Katie and Winston took their place in line near the stage. As her turn came, President Rob Huntington presented Katie with her bachelor’s degree in Biology with a Chemistry minor with honors from President Rob Huntington.

After handing Katie her diploma, Rob knelt down to ground level and presented Winston his own Heidelberg degree – the Honorary Degree of Dog-torate of Canine Letters, laboris canis.

It was a moment of pure joy, not only for those on stage, but for the audience that let out an audible “Awwww!”

“Having Winston walk beside me at Commencement meant everything to me,” Katie said. “He has provided companionship, support and unconditional love during the time we’ve been together, and I attribute a large part of my academic success to him.”

Presenting Winston with his own honorary degree was the idea of the Registrar’s Office team of Mary Milazzo and Beth Koop. As they walked the grads-to-be through rehearsal on the Friday before Commencement, it occurred to Mary that she had seen Winston accompanying Katie many times on campus, and she thought that was worthy of recognition. She wanted to reward him for his loyalty. Beth, who has studied Latin, did a little research, and together, they came up with the honorary degree and scrolled diploma for Winston.

“I’m so happy and grateful that Heidelberg recognized his importance in my journey at Heidelberg,” Katie said.

"Winston"Winston even participated in the post-graduation celebration when the new grads walked the traditional friendly gauntlet to faculty applause.

That is as it should be since he became a recognizable member of the Class of 2024 and a fixture on campus.

“People on campus definitely notice Winston,” said Katie. “They are always interested in his purpose and are friendly and complimentary to him – which Winston definitely enjoys. He made a lot of friends at Heidelberg, and he loves when people greet him by name,” Katie said

For the last year and a half, Winston and Katie were nearly inseparable. He attended classes with her, with the exception of her bio and chem labs. He accompanied her to extracurricular activities and meetings, was her “study buddy” in the library and fellow “gym rat” during her workouts at Saurwein. He even went along to Hoernemann when Katie was on the meal plan. “But to his disappointment, he didn’t get any table scraps,” Katie revealed.

Winston especially enjoyed his time on campus when, as a junior, Katie lived in the townhomes. There, he found his favorite space: an easily accessible open back yard to run and play.

Congratulations to Katie and Winston, and here’s wishing you two many more adventures together!

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