This 21-year-old woman posed with a 13-foot alligator for her graduation and the photos are a lot
Graduation is a special time for students who have just finished toiling their way through a college/university degree, and so it's only fitting that it's marked with a commemorative photo shoot. Some graduates like to get dressed up for the occasion, others like to go for a more comedic setup.
Oh, and some like to pose with 13-foot long man-eating dinosaurs.
Makenzie Noland, a 21-year-old soon-to-be wildlife ecology graduate at Texas A&M University, went viral on Facebook this week after sharing pictures of herself posing with an alligator named Big Tex.
Nope, what you're looking at isn't an example of Photoshop wizardry - Noland is genuinely standing mere feet away from this massive beast. But don't be mistaken: this isn't some random gator that the student just happened to stumble upon. In fact, the two have become close friends over the past few months.
Since May, Noland has been working as an intern at Gator County, a rescue center in Beaumont, Texas. In that time, she's worked her way up from tending to the baby alligators all the way to Big Tex, whom she has the privilege of interacting with during the "feeding shows" she regularly puts on for visitors.
And she claims he's never harmed her even once.
"I call him over, talk all sweet to him, tickle his nose, and reassure him that I'm not going to hurt him," Noland said in an interview with Buzzfeed. "I've been bitten by 8-inch hatchlings, which hurt, but never by Tex."
For her, then, the interaction with Big Tex was nothing out of the ordinary.
"The only thing different that day was that I was wearing a dress," she explained. "I normally wear a Gator Country T-shirt or tank top, Nike shorts, and Chacos."
The idea to take Noland's celebratory snaps with Big Tex actually came from the owner of the sanctuary, Arlie Hammonds, who originally suggested that the student balance her graduation ring on the gator's nose. It was Noland who then took the shoot a step further by donning her sash and cap and wading in to pose with the gentle giant.
Hammonds, who acquired the alligator in 2016, was confident that Noland would always be safe in the water. "I'm in there with [Big Tex] eight days a week," he said. "I'd like to think I know him. He’s a real sweetheart."
The pictures have so far achieved more than a thousand comments on Facebook, with many people passing along their congratulations to Noland for her graduation.
"Congratulations and wishing you the best!" wrote one person. "Help people teach respect for these creatures. These are the Best graduation pics."
Others, however, thought that she was taking a big risk by standing so close to the huge creature.
"I don't know who's a bigger idiot, you or the camera man who allowed you to do this," said another. "Your complete and reckless disregard for your own safety is proof college doesn't instill wisdom."
But Noland maintains that she has a special bond with the gator - and if you were wondering what the pair look like on a regular day, here's a short clip:
After she's graduated, Noland hopes to go on to work at the Dallas or Fort Worth zoos. Hopefully, these snaps will prove she's the right person for the job!