One participant stood out at Friday's graduation ceremony at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando. She was wearing a cap and gown, just like 29 other students. But she had four paws and a tail.
Zoey, a therapy dog, was presented with a "Paw of Fame" award before her owner, Paul Aragon, and the other students received their diplomas.
The freckled pit-bull mix was honored because for the past two years, she went to class with Aragon, a retired U.S. Army sergeant, helping him deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder sparked by three tours in Iraq.
Aragon said the pooch kept him focused on his studies when he became anxious, irritable or surprised by loud noises. "Zoey is a lifesaver," he said.
Aragon said he rescued Zoey from a shelter in 2011. She went through special training to learn to respond to cues triggered by his PTSD. If the dog senses he is upset, she will tug at her leash or do something else to redirect his attention to her instead.
At Friday's commencement, former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings, a motorcycle enthusiast herself, was among those who came to congratulate the graduates, including the special "dynamic duo."
"A partner is somebody who has got your back no matter what," said Demings, who gave Zoey her honor.
In a few weeks, Aragon, 31, plans to move back to his home state of Texas, where he aims to find a job as a motorcycle technician for a Harley-Davidson dealership.
He said he'll rely on 3-year-old Zoey to help him handle the stress of transitioning into the workforce.
And, of course, she'll accompany him on the job.
"It'll be fine," he said. "I'm ready to close this chapter and start writing a new one."
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