close
close
Skip to main content

Max the Cat received an honorary doctorate from Vermont State University

Max the cat has hitched a ride on students’ backpacks, participated in campus tours and strolled into a psychology lecture on Vermont State University’s Castleton campus more than once.

The five-year-old tabby is even on the university’s staff list, where he has his own email address.

It seemed like an obvious next step when the university awarded him an honorary Doctor of Literature degree, making him an official member of the graduating class of 2024 in addition to being a staff member. Max wears many hats, says Rob Franklin, photographer and social media manager for Vermont State University.

Last spring, Franklin had just started work at college when he noticed the cat was everywhere and he was being treated like a celebrity.

“I was talking to a colleague outside Woodruff Hall — the main building on campus — when I noticed this cat wandering around and everyone was greeting him,” Franklin said.

“I said, ‘What’s wrong with the cat?’ and I was told that he came to campus every day to socialize, and that the students would take him home when it got dark,” he said.

Max lives down the street from the main campus entrance with Ashley Dow and her family, but he rarely hangs out at home, Dow said.

Ever since she let Max out when he was one, he went straight to the college campus and enjoyed the attention of the students.

“He usually comes by around eight o’clock in the morning when I go to work, and then he gets home in time for dinner, or one of the students comes by to drop him off,” said Dow, a teacher in the special education.

“He lets everyone pick him up, and everyone loves him,” she said. “You can see the stress melt away from the students’ faces as they see Max running to them to be held and petted.”

Franklin took some photos of Max and posted them on Facebook last fall under the headline, “Who is Max?” He also posted a story about Max that was published in 2021 by the Castleton Spartan student newspaper.

“The photos received such a positive response that I planned to use one of them to congratulate this year’s graduates in a social media post,” Franklin said. “But then I thought, ‘What if we just let Max be part of the (graduating) class?'”

Max had been wandering the campus and its four thousand students for four years — the same amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree, he said.

“We don’t hand out PhDs here, but I thought it would be nice to give Max one,” Franklin said, noting that Vermont Public Radio covered the story.

He had a diploma made with corny cat puns and then posted it on Instagram ahead of the university’s commencement ceremony on May 18. The photo in the post showed Max wearing a cat-sized graduation cap.

“With a resounding purr of faculty approval, the Board of Trustees of the Vermont State Cat-leges has awarded Max Dow the prestigious title of Doctor of Litter-ature, complete with all the catnip perks, scratching post privileges and litter. the responsibilities that come with it,” the diploma states.

Students and faculty support Max’s academic accolades.

Ali Impomeni, a junior majoring in media and communications, said Max seems to show up on the days she misses the four cats she left at home in Albany, N.Y. the most.

“He purrs and follows me everywhere – he’s just the nicest guy to everyone,” she said. “It’s hilarious that he now has a PhD, but he really deserves it.”

Impomeni, 20, created a small shrine for Max two years ago when he didn’t visit as often in winter due to the cold weather.

“Everyone missed him, so I put a picture of him in a frame and added some candles,” she said. “We were all happy when it got warmer and we started seeing him again.”

Dow said that when Max first visited campus, she decided to put him in a sweater with a note attached to it, telling the students that he was not a stray and that they should not overfeed him.

“I also asked them to drop him off at the house if they saw him after five,” she said.

She said she’s glad Max brings joy to students who are homesick for their own pets.

“Everyone is looking out for their well-being,” Dow said. “If they don’t see him for a few days, I’ll get a call from someone on campus to check on him.”

Max enjoys following students through automatic doors and once ended up on the college dean’s desk, she said. Another time, her easygoing cat came home smelling of perfume.

“Everyone looks at him as their emotional support animal,” Dow said. “He is a cat who loves life and loves attention.”

She and Max’s fans said they don’t expect his honorary doctorate to go to his head.

“We decided not to parade him on stage to get his diploma because we didn’t want to stress the cat, and we also didn’t want to overshadow the students’ achievements,” Franklin said. “Max seems to be fine with that.”