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Eleventh class of pets graduates from Eckerd College

By Ashlyn Fransen '24
Published April 20, 2023
Categories: About Eckerd, Awards, Student Life, Students

Bunnies TaunTaun and Bantha joined about 70 other pets in Fox Hall to receive graduation certificates from President Jim Annarelli. Photos by Lisa Presnail

TaunTaun and Bantha—a bonded pair of female bunnies—wore grad caps as they waited to hear their names called at the Eckerd College Pet Graduation on April 11.

Their human companion, Beverly Papa, a senior environmental studies student from Los Angeles, had transferred to Eckerd two years ago because she is passionate about climate change and the environment. Like many people and their pets, Beverly considers the bunnies to be family. She says they remind her not to take things too seriously. They are a great “brain break” when she’s been studying too long, and they always brighten her day.

So she made sure her “family” received the honor of graduating at the 11th annual ceremony.

More than 70 cats, dogs, lizards and even rats walked across the stage in Fox Hall to receive their certificates from President Jim Annarelli, Ph.D. Each esteemed pet was accompanied by its human companion and posed for a photo with the president before receiving its certificate. Eckerd has welcomed pets since 1973, a tradition that earned the College recognition as the No. 1 pet-friendly campus in the nation.

Oreo the guinea pig was among this year’s graduates.

Pet Graduation 2023

As a part of their community contributions, TaunTaun and Bantha have come to play important roles on the Eckerd College Community Farm. When Environmental Studies Instructor, Internship Coordinator and Eckerd College Farm Faculty Director David Himmelfarb, Ph.D., learned about Beverly’s bunnies, he made a deal with her.

Sir Salem the dog made sure to thank President Annarelli for the recognition.

During harvest season, Beverly took them the greens that are excellent for bunnies but not fit for the cafeteria. They got to enjoy the organic veggies, and nothing at the farm went to waste. In exchange, Beverly donates the bunnies’ litter waste to be used as fertilizer or composting material at the farm.

Although less expressive, Gonzo and Ramen the geckos were presumably equally proud of their accomplishment.

“Being a part of the farm’s ecosystem is really fulfilling because we all get to connect to nature and spend time in the dirt and sun,” Beverly says. “It was a little strange at first, but now it seems strange to just throw away the litter [waste] when it has so much value on the farm.”

Beverly recalls a particularly special time there when TaunTaun and Bantha came to campus with her. Since the farm isn’t treated with pesticides, it’s a much safer place for the bunnies to exercise outside than the green space surrounding the off-campus apartment they live in. At first, the bunnies were timid—TaunTaun even hid her head. But soon, the natural urge to sniff the weeds took over, and they began digging furiously in the dirt. Beverly watched closely for hawks to ensure the bunnies’ safety. She remembers they were excited for days after their farm adventure.

“We will be making many more visits before our time is up here,” she says. “This campus is a beautiful supplement to their lives.”

During his address to the pet parents, President Annarelli thanked the Pet Life staff for all of their hard work to ensure the safety of pets and students at Eckerd College, which demonstrates the mutual support we give and receive from our pets.

“Our college deeply values companionship across species,” he said.

Beverly attributes her academic success partly to the incorporation of her pets into her college life. She says she is incredibly thankful for the opportunity to graduate with her pets, and she is proud that Eckerd celebrates them in this way.

Watch a replay of the ceremony

Bilbo Baggins the chameleon inspected his certificate with utmost care.

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