DeKALB – About an hour before she walked across the stage in front of thousands of people, Hailey Kruger thanked the Lord for getting her through.
“I just know I couldn’t have gotten here if it wasn’t for God,” said Kruger, clad in a black graduation robe. “I know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Him.”
Kruger was one of the 1,400 Northern Illinois University students who took part in commencement ceremonies over the weekend. Saturday was the graduate school ceremony, and undergraduates had their turn Sunday.
With friends and family numbering in the thousands watching them Sunday, the students walked across the Convocation Center stage, receiving diploma covers and best wishes from university officials.
The whole experience was a high for Kruger.
“I am probably the most excited I’ve ever been,” Kruger said. “I just feel like I’ve worked really hard, and I’m finally done.”
Kruger graduated with a bachelor’s degree in art education. Her ideal job is teaching at a middle school or high school, which makes sense considering one of the most rewarding experiences of her life was student-teaching at a middle school and high school in Rochelle.
Kruger said she will work as a substitute teacher during her job hunt.
Alexander Charo, who graduated with a degree in industrial engineering, already has a job lined up in January. He said he has taken a job with Pentair, an industrial conglomerate that specializes in fluid and thermal management.
Charo gave thanks to NIU’s College of Engineering for the internship fair it hosts, something he said helped him land his Pentair job. But he also said it was hard work and determination that got him through 5½ years at NIU.
“Are you somebody who’s going to fall down and stay down?” Charo said. “Or are you someone who’s going to get back up and finish the job?”
Kruger said she had no regrets about her time at NIU, although Charo said he wished he saw more of the campus. In particular, he highlighted the university’s observatory, which sits on top of Davis Hall.
Kristina Gailey, who graduated with a degree in anthropology, said she wished she got more involved with some of the student organizations on campus.
Still, she described her experience at NIU as being an “eye-opening” one.
“You’re finally free from parental control, and you’re thrust into the big world,” Gailey said.
As an aspiring anthropologist, she wants to travel the world, going from dig site to dig site. To achieve that goal, she needs to go to graduate school. She said she wants to go to North Carolina State University.
NIU officials congratulated the students for their hard work and thanked the families for their support. At least one graduate, Maria Torres, decorated the top of her mortarboard to say, “Thanks Mom & Dad!”
Torres said she was the first person in her family to graduate from college. She said her parents gave her a lot of assistance in the form of financial and emotional support.
“They knew I needed it, even though I didn’t ask,” Torres said.
Torres wants to work for a nonprofit organization that’s geared toward undocumented immigrants and lower-income families.
NIU President John Peters, giving his final winter commencement address before he steps down as university president in June, urged all of the graduates to be servant leaders regardless of their career path.
“I hope you will take your NIU values with you,” Peters said. “And that is service to others above all else, and a commitment to justice for all members of our society. Every career, and every life, contains the opportunity to serve.”