Posing for photos with best friends ahead of graduation day is a fairly normal way of saying goodbye to some of life’s best years. Unless said best friend is a 14-foot-long, 1,000-pound alligator, of course.
But that’s exactly what Texas A&M senior Makenzie Noland did. Instead of posing for regular graduation photos, the soon-to-be graduate waded into a pond with Big Tex, a rescued gargantuan alligator, according to BBC News. The 21-year-old is graduating this weekend with a degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences.
Over the summer, Noland interned at Gator Country, a sort of sanctuary for reptiles located in a 15-acre preserve in Beaumont, Texas. It took her all summer to gain Big Tex’s trust, but the two now share a special bond.
“I worked with this alligator every day, and I figured, ‘Why not wear a dress this time and celebrate my graduation with this incredible animal?'” she said, according to Fox 13 News.
For another photo, she placed her graduation ring on the animal’s nose for a creative close up of his mighty face. In social media videos, the student can be seen kissing Tex’s nose, which looks massive next to her face. Though Tex is enormous, Noland says he’s a gentle giant.
She says the gator responds to his name when she calls him and reacts to her hand signals when she enters his pond to feed him. Big Tex was rescued in 2016 after he became a nuisance and threat to boaters.
“I know on a moment’s notice it can turn bad but he doesn’t want to hurt us, he tries to watch our backs. Whenever we go into any other alligator’s pond he’s up there looking at us, making sure we’re OK,” Noland said, as stated by ABC News.
Noland grew up in Bellevue, Nebraska, where she began to develop her passion for wildlife early on, according to the BBC News article. As a little girl, she would often pick up snakes, hold animals, and talk to other kids about the wildlife around her.
An aspiring zookeeper, Noland intended her graduation photos to showcase the importance of the work Gator Country and other sanctuaries have. She believes that wild animals should stay in the wild, but when they need to be rescued for their protection and others’; they should be used to educate the public.
Noland is already looking forward to the next opportunity to visit her giant friend.
“I want to come back and get in the water with Tex again and see if he remembers me because he’s been a really big part of my summer and I hope that he loves me as much as I love him,” she said, according to the ABC News article.