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Service Dog Walks at Commencement

CU graduated 926 students Dec. 14

A campus fixture for the past two and a half years, service dog “Dixie” walked in Concordia University Portland’s fall commencement on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013.

Donned in cap and gown, Dixie will join her owner, Concordia graduate Amanda Cherry, as she receives her bachelors of arts degree in English and communication with a minor in psychology from Concordia University Portland.

A 46-year-old resident of St. Helens, Ore. and military veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Amanda’s educational journey is an inspiration to all.

“I had expected significant barriers to finishing my bachelor’s degree and taking my service dog, Dixie, into classes,” said Amanda. “It’s been just the opposite. Dixie and I were accepted from day one. Concordia’s faculty and staff worked to accommodate and support me and Dixie.”

One symptom of PTSD can be a tendency to isolate oneself, but with Dixie and Concordia’s flexibility, “the adjustment and stress of being a returning student was minimized,” said Amanda. Dixie also supported Amanda in a consistent routine of getting up and out of the house each morning.”

As an adult transfer student and a veteran, Amanda returned to school using the G.I. Bill as well as a merit award from Concordia called the “Lifetime Learning Award,” for transfer students with noteworthy life experience or community service.

Amanda graduated from high school and first began her bachelor’s degree 26 years ago but then joined the Iowa National Guard and was on active duty for six years as a medic and journalist, including time in Germany, and in Bosnia as part of Operation Joint Endeavor.

She has raised Dixie since she was a puppy, and is retiring her after 16 years. Meanwhile, “Buster” is in training to become Amanda’s next service dog.

Amanda met with an academic advisor right away to share information and certifications for her service dog. Professors were notified about the duo ahead of each new semester, and were always introduced during the first class sessions.

Amanda and Dixie will be missed, but the university is a better place for having had them on campus and as part of the Concordia community.

Concordia University Portland graduated 926 students – including both undergraduate and graduate students – in its fall 2013 commencement, a 43% increase over last fall. Next spring’s commencement will be held April 26, 2014.