High heels, sandals, Keds, you name it — all sorts of footwear poked out from beneath the gowns of Schenectady County Community College graduates who walked across the Proctors stage Thursday during the college’s 44th commencement.
But Otis, who received more applause and cheers than anyone else when he walked across the stage, didn’t wear any shoes at all.
The 12-year-old, black lab-golden retriever mix wore only a graduation hood as he helped graduate Lori Greco receive her A.A.S. degree in human services.
Otis, who has been Greco’s Seeing Eye dog for more than 10 years, retired from service after the ceremony.
“I have a great bond with Otis,” said Greco, 47, who is blind but has some light perception. “I received Otis in 2003 from The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey, and he’s just been a great dog since the day I met him.”
Greco, of Waterford, was one of 257 graduates to walk during Thursday’s ceremony — 258 if you count Otis — and one of 582 graduating members of the class of 2014.
Also walking across the stage with Greco was her 22-year-old daughter, Katherine, who earned an A.S. degree in human services.
“It’s kind of cool,” she said of graduating on the same day.
With her degree, Greco said, she hopes to someday work in the disabilities field. Greco, who started taking classes in fall 2011, said it was her goal to have Otis walk with her at graduation, even though most dogs retire at around the age of 10.
“Because I started here with him,” she said, “and without him, I would have had a hard time here. He did a great job navigating the college.”
Greco has a hereditary disease called retinitis pigmentosa and started losing her vision when she was 22. Otis is her third Seeing Eye dog — and also her favorite.
That’s why, now that he is retired, she’s adopting him.
“They’re all great, but he’s the best,” she said. “He has worked the longest out of all the dogs I’ve ever had. He stayed healthy, too.”
Thursday marked Otis’ first graduation ceremony. When he graduated from The Seeing Eye, there was no pomp and circumstance — other than going home with his future best friend.
“Here’s a big deal,” Greco said. “They’re making a big deal over him here.”