Mackenzie Noland’s graduation snaps won’t soon be forgotten - because they feature a 14ft alligator.
The US college student posted pictures of her petting the reptile while dressed in cap and gown on Facebook last week with an understated caption that didn’t quite capture its viral potential. The post has since been shared thousands of times.
“Not your typical graduation picture,” the 21-year-old wrote.
Noland, who will graduate with a degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences from the Texas A&M University on Friday, has been interning at a Beaumont rescue centre since May.
The centre has about 450 alligators, crocodiles and other reptiles, but it’s Big Tex - who Noland is pictured with - who is the star attraction.
Noland and the gator, who was adopted by the rescue centre in 2016 after overfeeding turned him into a nuisance for local boaties, have since formed a close bond.
She told the BBC that Big Tex responds to his name and reacts to her hand signals when she strolls into his pond to feed him.
“I get in the water with that animal every day - he’s one of my best friends there!” she said, dismissing concerns for her safety.
Noland grew up in Bellevue, Nebraska where spotting an alligator in your garden is not the daily occurrence she now encounters.
However, she is no stranger to petting reptiles, having picked up snakes from a young age.
Noland told the BBC she initially intended her graduation pictures to serve as a showcase for the work she has been doing at the centre.
“In all reality we don’t want to bring these animals back (to the centre), we want them to live in the bayous and canals out in the swampy areas,” she said.
“But since he is with us, he’s a wonderful representation of what it’s like to train an animal and show off his personality. They’re wonderful creatures - and they’re not all maneaters!”
Noland has been overwhelmed by the reaction her pictures have got, with media outlets across the world covering the story.
“I was not expecting this; I just expected to post a couple of cute photos on my Instagram. It’s been incredible.”
Noland thanked “everyone who has shared my posts and given me all of this support” on Facebook earlier today.
She continued: “I am overwhelmed with how viral my post has gotten and to see everyone from my hometown pushing me to move forward and supporting me is truly incredible! Y’all are the ones who made this happen and I couldn’t be more thankful! I’m hoping to make y’all proud!”
Noland hopes to continue to working with wildlife after graduating telling the BBC she wants to be “immersed in animals and educate the public in them”.