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Zach next to Wings in nature, surrounded by trees
MAY 13, 2024 MONDAY

Graduate Soars at Widener, with Wings

Among the 97 Widener University Commonwealth Law School students graduating this week, four black paws will also strut the commencement stage as leader dog Wings accompanies his human, Zachary Penzone, to receive his law degree.

Penzone found that at Widener Law Commonwealth, his passion for history and preference for small schools near his family in Scranton could combine to launch him into a meaningful career. A handwritten note from Dean Michael Hussey with his acceptance letter convinced him that Widener was a place that prioritized belonging and personal relationships.

“From the beginning, Widener felt like family and accepted me and Wings with open arms,” Penzone said.

Penzone has retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, a genetic disorder which causes progressive vision loss and eventual blindness. As a 16 year old, Penzone was working on his Eagle Scout project and learning how to drive when his younger sister Kayla started experiencing abnormal vision problems. Testing revealed a diagnosis of RP, and Penzone and his twin sister Genna were also encouraged to get tested.

“I was sure nothing was wrong with me. I was out camping all the time, just living normal life as a teenager,” Penzone said. “But we went ahead and did the test and found out that I had RP as well. It was a huge culture shock. I was definitely in denial for a while, especially after I had to turn over my driver’s permit.”

 Zach's sisters Genna and Kayla, along with their mom and Zach, pose with leader dogs Kane and Wings.While Penzone initially struggled, Kayla jumped right into her local Association for the Blind and soon got involved with the leader dog program and matched with her dog, Kane.

Leader Dogs for the Blind is a nonprofit that trains and matches guide dogs to legally blind individuals. Having Kane in the house was great fun, Penzone said, and it opened his eyes and lifted his spirits around his own RP diagnosis. Six months after Kane joined the family, noticing significant vision loss himself, Penzone flew to Leader Dogs for the Blind headquarters in Michigan where he was matched with Wings, a 16-month-old black labrador retriever..

Wings was named, raised, and trained by an incarcerated individual as part of Leader Dog’s Prison Puppies Initiative. After bonding and training as a pair for three weeks, Penzone and Wings came home and started their new life together.

Dean drë cummings petting Wings in the pit as students watchWings has been everywhere at Widener Law Commonwealth with Penzone, who has made the most of his time in law school. From a first-year law student representative of the Student Bar Association to Penzone’s current role as its executive vice president, and chief justice for Phi Alpha Delta, and much more, Penzone has taken advantage of all opportunities. And Wings was there for it all.

“Law school is intimidating at first, but as I got more active in clubs, I started having a lot of fun, and Wings has now become an unofficial mascot,” Penzone reflected. “After class, I’d take his harness off in the Pit so he could walk around and say hi to everyone. He has many friends and admirers on campus.”

Students, faculty, and staff agree.

“I had the pleasure of giving Wings the award for ‘Best Canine Classmate’ at our end-of-year celebration,” Professor Michael Dimino said. “The fact that Wings was accepted without question shows how everyone at Widener is committed to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to make the most of their education. I’ll miss having both Zach and Wings in class.”

This summer, Penzone will be studying for the bar exam and looking for jobs in the criminal or general counsel fields. Wherever he lands next, there will always be a home for them (belly rubs for Wings included) at Widener.

 


 

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Zachary Penzone ‘24

How it Started, How it's Going
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 Photo of Wings

Wings Penzone ‘24

How it Started, How it's Going
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