For six years, the #ButlerBound program has delivered good news to prospective students around the country. With a personal touch, and a lot of drool, Blue III (a.k.a. Trip), Butler’s live mascot, surprises future (human) Bulldogs with their acceptance letters or scholarship announcements.
More often than not, such a big reveal is dependent upon the accepted students’ parents, who work behind the scenes with Butler to organize the surprise. We caught up with a few parents whose children had their acceptance letters paw-delivered by Trip to gain more insight on that moment and how their relationship with the university continued from there.
For Angela Buchman, she knows that getting the news directly from Trip could be one of the main factors in her son’s decision. Luke, now a high school senior, is still in the thick of his college-choosing process.
“If you saw Luke’s face, you saw how special that moment was, and how he’s continued to think about it,” she says. “In the last few years, he has really buckled down and worked hard at school, and Butler seemed to recognize that. It really vaulted Butler up his list.”
That’s right – Luke’s future as a bulldog is still up in the air. Some schools have his attention for the programs they offer, others because it’s where his friends will probably go. But no other school has pulled out the kind of stops that Butler has, which is exactly why the university does it.
As higher education becomes increasingly more competitive and the college decision becomes more pressure filled, Butler has a Trip up their sleeve.
Michael Kaltenmark, Butler’s Director of Community and Government Relations and resident bulldog handler, makes anywhere from 40 to 100 admission visits with Trip each year. These visits demand lots of coordination and early mornings, but the payoff is worth it. Students who receive a personal visit from Kaltenmark and his loveable pooch are significantly more likely to attend Butler, and that’s what it’s all about.
And to be on the receiving end of such a visit is all the more memorable. Especially for Keelen Barlow.
“It was amazing – really, it was everything he could have hoped for,” says Keelen’s mother, Nicolette. “Given his backstory, and what Butler has always meant to him, it couldn’t have played out any more perfectly.”
Because even though no one in the Barlow family had ever attended Butler before Keelen started this fall, the university always held a special place in their lives.
After Keelen was born, Nicolette’s parents subscribed to season tickets for Butler basketball games and started to take him to every home game when he was only two. It’s how Keelen initially fell in love with Butler – and when his grandfather passed away, Nicolette believes going to the games became a way of keeping those memories alive.
“But even though he always wanted to be a student there, it wasn’t a sure thing given the costs,” she recalls. “That’s why Trip showing up at our door was so amazing. They didn’t just come with an acceptance letter, it was also the first time we learned that Keelen had gotten the scholarship he needed to go.”
For Keelen, meeting Trip in a room full of his loved ones, including his grandma and fellow bulldog super-fan, all of his life seemed to be leading up to that moment. For Nicolette, it became one of many examples of how Butler often goes the extra mile to ensure its students feel a true sense of belonging on campus.
“It’s such a tight-knit community in so many regards, and I love knowing he’s not sitting in a lecture hall surrounded by 200 other students being taught by a T.A.,” she says. “Especially as a freshman, because all the changes are easy to get lost in. But when he came home for the first time he was a changed man. Definitely for the better.”
Angela is aware of those same obstacles that her son will face next year on campus as a freshman, wherever that might be.
“With everyone that Luke talks to at Butler, he can really tell how much they care about him as an individual already,” she says, “and I think that’s important to him. It’d be important to anyone. Butler’s people really are eager to help every student find their place there.”
So eager, in fact, that the Butler Bound visits become one of the hardest secrets to keep in town. For Angela, she couldn’t help but let it slip to the receptionist during one of Luke’s orthodontist visits.
With Keelen’s family, they all knew how significant this moment would be for him. And the more and more people were invited by his mother to witness it, Keelen started to know something was up. But even though he is a journalism major now and learning to chase leads, his instincts were a little off when guessing what everyone was so excited about.
“He thought I was pregnant!” Nicolette says. “Once I started telling him to be home on a certain day and time he got really suspicious, but he still didn’t expect the bulldog to be there on the front door. He was so shocked that I had to remind him to let them in.”
Because there, in his living room surrounded by family, dreams were coming true between two bulldogs. Nicolette used to fear that her son would get teased for wearing a Butler t-shirt every day growing up. But all those worries went away knowing her son would soon be right at home.
“Once he got his letter and that scholarship there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to let Butler happen for him,” Nicolette says. “He still pretended to look at other places just because they were on the table before. But his heart was already at Butler, where it still is now.”