A cat just earned his doctorate from a Vermont university

For many graduates, their college degrees come at the end of at least four years spent roaming the campus.

Max, a 6-year-old tabby, is no different. Except now, he’s a Doctor of Litter-ature.

He’s been visiting Vermont State University’s Castleton campus ever since his owner, Ashley Dow, began letting him out of the house, which is within walking distance of the school.

Maurice Ouimet, the school’s dean of admissions and enrollment services, said the “very affectionate” Max is usually the first to greet him in the morning and will even come inside the admissions office in the wintertime.

“The rest of his daily routine really revolves around where our students are at,” Ouimet said.
“So, he’ll frequently head up the hill and park himself outside one of our main academic buildings so as students come and go from class, he’ll oftentimes just be sitting on the wall.”

Max doesn’t shy away from climbing all over the students, Dow said, and “so he’ll get up and get on their backpacks and they’ll walk around and everybody’s doing selfies.”

“I would say he’s a charismatic cat because he just brings people to him,” Ouimet said, adding Max often reciprocates bystanders’ affections by “standing up and purring.”

Max also greets visitors who come for tours of the school, with Ouimet saying the tabby “feels like he has a job to do in welcoming people to the campus.”

Max earned a degree at a pivotal time in the university’s history. Vermont State University’s 2024 class marks the first combined graduating class after the merger of Castleton University, Northern Vermont University and Vermont Technical College. The three schools combined to form Vermont State University in the summer of 2023.

The university communications office created a countdown to graduation to “build up and celebrate this year’s seniors” who not only went through the Covid-19 pandemic as freshmen but also dealt with the transition that resulted from the merging of the schools, according to Ouimet.

It was the school’s social media manager, Rob Franklin, who had the idea to make Max a part of that historic class – with an honorary doctorate in “Litter-ature.”

According to Ouimet, the university does not actually award doctorates (at least not to people), leaving Max in an exclusive club of one.

“It was just intended to be just kind of lighthearted and kind of a joke but at the same time, realize that this cat did conjure up real feelings and real emotions and was a real support to a lot of people on our campuses during a difficult time,” Ouimet said.

When Dow found out about Franklin’s idea, she laughed. “I’m like, ‘Really? OK,’” she said. “And I had no idea what it was going to open up.”

The furry graduate even has his own school email and directory page.

Dow and her daughter, Kaitlyn Tanner, a student at Vermont State, monitor Max’s email and have responded to messages from as far as Germany and England.

Students pet Max in front of Leavenworth Hall at Vermont State University Castleton. He likes climbing on their backpacks. - Rob Franklin/Vermont State University
Students pet Max in front of Leavenworth Hall at Vermont State University Castleton. He likes climbing on their backpacks. - Rob Franklin/Vermont State University

Dow says there was recently a feral cat problem in the community, causing Max to be regularly attacked by other cats. So, she put posters around campus asking students to send her a text or bring Max home if they saw him out after dark. Soon, they were arriving on her doorstep with Max in hand.

As far as celebrating his graduation, Dow said Max did not walk at the ceremony on May 18 but his name was called.

With summer coming on, Ouimet doesn’t see Max taking a break from his school visits since the campus is home to summer camps.

“He’ll be out there getting all the attention and I think he’ll just be a little more famous this year,” he said. “People will be like, ‘Hey, that’s Max! He’s the famous cat.’”

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