DeKALB – Graduating from Northern Illinois University was like a dream for Nick Skuban.
Skuban was a mechanical engineering major at NIU, and he was struggling enough with some classes that he failed a couple of them.
But after five years of hard work, Skuban joined about 2,500 other NIU students Saturday at their graduation ceremony. As he received his diploma at the Convocation Center, he believed it was all worth it.
"This is something nobody can take from me ever," Skuban said.
Learning didn't always happen in the classroom. What helped keep Skuban's interest in his classwork was applying engineering knowledge to side projects. Among his many creations is an automated beer-brewing system and a kegerator with a digital display.
Alexander "Guide" Sobecki also didn't seem like he was going to make it at first. He said he was told in high school that he would not graduate, but now he holds two degrees in corporate communications and sociology.
Sobecki credits his hard work.
"There's no genius; there's no gift," Sobecki said. "I'm not superior in any way. I just looked at what was in front of me and worked at it."
During his time at NIU, Sobecki traveled to Africa and China through the NIU Study Abroad program. He worked as a community adviser who trained more than 150 other community advisers, and he was a Northern Lights ambassador. He also studied Mandarin and Malay.
He said his success has not gone to his head, and he is a down-to-earth guy who likes to eat bison burgers at the Junction Eating Place in DeKalb.
Presiding over his last graduation ceremony was NIU President John Peters. Peters will retire June 30 after 13 years.
"When John shakes the last student's hand later [Saturday], he will have the privilege of conveying 72,000 degrees during his tenure as president," said John Butler, an NIU Board of Trustees member.
Sobecki gripped Peters' hand during the ceremony. He said he had to thank Peters personally because the president meant a lot to him.
"He's made NIU what it is, and I wouldn't be here without him," Sobecki said.
Peters said to the students that the value of an education goes beyond preparing for a career. He urged them to continue their education as a lifelong pursuit.
"You will contribute much more meaningfully in your roles as parents, partners and community leaders if you put a premium on continuing your own personal and intellectual growth," Peters said.
During his speech at the ceremony, Butler said students are entering a troubled economy, but he was relieved to share some good news. He said while the national unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, the unemployment rate for students with bachelor's degrees was 3.9 percent.
"You made a wise investment," Butler said to the students.
Skuban said he's not too nervous about finding a job. He said he knows it's a matter of putting his name out there and networking with people.
Even with all his degrees and awards, Sobecki said he's still nervous about entering the job market.
"There is a lot of pressure to just get the job," Sobecki said.