Student's dedicated service dog awarded honorary diploma

By Danielle Garrand

/ CBS News

Boy and service dog overcome obstacles

Graduate student Brittany Hawley graduated this weekend — but she didn't cross the stage alone. Her dedicated service dog, GRIFFIN, whose name is spelled in all capital letters, was right beside her to collect his very own honorary degree.

Hawley earned a degree in occupational therapy at New York's Clarkson University on Saturday and GRIFFIN the golden retriever has been hard at work too.

The pair attended "all the same classes, lectures, faculty appointments, group study sessions, social activities, research projects, and clinical experiences, fully making Griffin an equal member of the Clarkson Golden Knights family," according to the school's statement.

The graduate was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) at 16. The syndrome causes dystonia, which has led to Hawley's inability to walk. She is now in a wheelchair.

Coincidentally, Hawley was approved for a service dog through paws4people the same day she received an interview for her now-alma mater.

"We moved to New York together, we started school together and we finished together," Hawley told CBS News.

GRIFFIN has served as her mobility dog for two and a half years and assists Hawley daily. He retrieves items for her, opens doors, turns on lights and if she falls he gets a person or a phone to help.

Hawley said her beloved dog has had a huge impact on her experience in school.

"I felt more independent, I was more social, I felt more outgoing with him," said Hawley. "I pushed from day one, when I graduate, I want GRIFFIN to graduate with me."

GRIFFIN proudly accepts his diploma. Steve Jacobs/Clarkson University

The school approved her request for her pup to get an honorary degree of his own in October.

Now that they both have graduated, Hawley will take the board exam and when she passes, become a registered and licensed occupational therapist in North Carolina, her home state.

She hopes to work with veterans and active duty military.

"I don't like a disability to define the individual, I want the individual to define themselves. I want to show them that," said Hawley.

And she said her devoted dog will be by her side in her next journey.

"Whenever I get a job, he will be with me every single day," Hawley said.

48370962-1745108705616372-5836625766581796864-n.jpg
GRIFFIN sits by owner Brittany Hawley at the ceremony Saturday. Brittany Hawley

First published on December 19, 2018

© 2018 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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